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Inequality on the Rise in Germany and the U.S.

As I anticipated, I got a lot of 'Facebook will steal your soul!!' reactions to the announcement of less blogging and more Facebooking, so I plan to keep blogging as time permits. However, Facebook and Twitter are better for spontaneous link-sharing and discussion, so you're invited to follow me there if you wish as well.

Here's a post I've been meaning to work on for a while, another installment in the series of 'Germany's social problems are more similar to America's than many Germans would like to acknowledge'. First, a short excerpt from an essay (g) by Hans-Ulrich Wehler in Die Zeit, on the government's most recent (and controversial (g)) report on 'Wealth and Poverty in Germany'. Here are a few of his conclusions (my translation):

Even more severe than the inequality in incomes is the inequality in wealth. They show class barriers on the bases of an unprecedented amount of wealth in Germany. In 1970, the top ten percent of Germany already controlled 44 percent of total cash wealth. In 2011, the richest decile controlled 66 percent. In a dramatic process of concentration, the top 10% has acquired control over an astonishing 2/3 of total private wealth in Germany. One hundred billionaires stood at the top of 345,000 millionaires, as measured by wealth. Rich Germany have never been so wealthy as they are now.

The situation is made more drastic by the fact that, for the first time since the 'golden years' before 1914, a generation of heirs will inherit a massive amount of wealth. In the late 1990s, the first billions created during the 'economic miracle' years was passed on to the next generation. Afterwards, however, the process started in earnest: between 2000 and 2010, two trillion Euros were inherited in Germany. Germany's 37 million households have collected total wealth of 7.7 trillion Euro. Of that, 2 trillion were in the hands of households dissolved by death during this decade. For the heirs of the next generation, the next decade will be even more beneficial: the German Institute for Old-Age Care estimates that since 2010, 260 billion dollars have been passed on as inheritance in each year. That means 3 trillion dollars will be inherited during this decade.

Meanwhile in the United States:

WASHINGTON — Incomes rose more than 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners during the economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to new data.

The numbers, produced by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, show overall income growing by just 1.7 percent over the period. But there was a wide gap between the top 1 percent, whose earnings rose by 11.2 percent, and the other 99 percent, whose earnings declined by 0.4 percent.

Mr. Saez, a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, concluded that “the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.”

There are still meaningful differences between American and German social-welfare policies, and Germany remains a somewhat more equal society than the United States. But the gap between Germany and the U.S. is certainly not the yawning chasm that some Germans like to imagine -- and it's steadily narrowing, thanks in no small part to the policies of the current German government.


'I Love You' in Egypt

Just returned from Egypt, which was intense and gorgeous. Sorry about the lack of posting, but I'm moving more and more of my online utterances to my Facebook page. If you like, you can follow me / like me there, although I'm not sure how that works, exactly. If someone could try it and let me know how it works out, that would be great.

I spent five days in Cairo, five on the Nile, four in Alexandria. As a public service, let me announce that if you've ever thought of visiting Egypt, do it now. Tourism is way down after the Revolution, which is a disaster for the Egyptian economy but a blessing for the visitor. The Egyptian Museum, for instance, usually has huge lines of visitors waiting hours just to get in during tourist high season (which is January-March, when the weather is cool). But now, you wander past bored security guards and are inside in minutes, and you can stroll through the cool, gloomy galleries practically alone. The same is true of all the other tourists sites as well -- you might see a few scattered tour groups, but most of the time you will be one of the only people there, and you can take pictures without a single other person appearing in them. The tour boat I took the Nile cruise has room for 20 passengers, but there were just three people on board most of the time.

I'll try to post a bit more as time permits, but for now I'll just note the strange infatuation of Egyptians with the phrase 'I Love You'. This rather eerie tableau comes from the seat of a horse-drawn carriage in Edfu:

Edfu - Decorated Seat in Horse-Drawn Carriage

And this beauty is from the dashboard of a cab driver in Aswan:

Aswan - I Love You Dashboard Tissue Box


My Kind of Phrasebook

Just a note to my readers: I'll be visiting Egypt from 4 March to 19 March. Blogging will be intermittent, but perhaps I'll find the time to send in the odd update or two.

I bought Lonely Planet's Egyptian Arabic phrasebook. Among many other helpful phrases, it teaches you how to say "I'm a communist", "I'm an atheist", and "I'm a lesbian."

Perhaps not coincidentally, it also offers translations for "You'll be charged with anti-government activity" and "You'll be charged with murder", as well as "I didn't do it" and "We're innocent."

The only thing they left out was "It was like that when I got here."