Reading this post is like one of those “Amsterdam Kids” skits from Conan O’Brien, where a bunch of stoned kids make all sorts of claims about what Amsterdam is like and what is legal there….all fabulous misrepresentations of the truth.

I live in Germany, and have done so for 15 years…not as an expat working for an american company, but as an american working for german companies.

In those 15 years there have been NO real wage gains in Germany,a dn there have been a number of concessions on working hours, wages and benefits from workers unionized and not.

For the greater part of those 15 years there has been an unemployment rate of over 8%.

The percentage of women who work is about half that of America, so you are also going form a much smaller baseline on the unemployment.

The unemployment benfits have been severely restricted, with them capping out at 52 weeks, after which a minimal welfare program of 352€ a month kicks in, which also requires you to deplete your personal savings to continue to collect.

Germany has also upped the retirment age to 67, with serious discussions of moving it to 70.

Health care is decent here, with both a private and a public option. The private is available to people with a pre-tax income above 50,000€ a year, which is about 20% of the population. EVERYONE pays 50% of their insurance premiums…companies are NOT allowed to pay more….the insurance premiums are 14.9-15.5% of your salary, with a minimum of 150€ a month (half of which you pay) and a maximum of about 750€. The public system is also introducing an additional 225€ a year in additional payments from the workers in the public system, because it runs at a deficit. Co-pays and cuts in what is covered have also been par for the course.

Patients with private coverage are favoured by doctors, and can usually get appointments same day, or within a week, whereas public patients often have to wait a long time. Hospitals genrally have a seperate wing with nicer amenities for the private patients.

Pensions were established on a “pay as you go” basis, so there is no real trust fund built up. When it was established there were 20 people working for every pensioner….now the number is 3 to 1, and the burden is becoming huge.

Immigration to Germany is relatively easy….but the influx of workers from eastern europe like Romania and Poland has defintiely pushed wages down.

Even at companies like Mercedes up to 30% of the workers work for temp agencies, so they can avoid paying them the benefits associated with their full time work force….

The major drugstore and food chains are notorius for using the rules of “mini-jobs” to hire a large percentage of workers who earn under 400€ a month for up to 22 hours a week….these jobs have no social benefits, and do not accrue towards your social security or pension benfits.

There are also many people working in 1€ an hour jobs, which piggybacks on welfare payments.

These were schemes built to bring the long term unemployed into work, but they have become a normal form of employment in a lot of industries.

The export companies are strong, but a lot of this has been borne on the back of the average and skilled german worker.

Germany has been on the forefront of outsourcing…outsourcing work to the czech republic, romania, china and the like. more than 50% of the value addition in a German car takes place outside of Germany.

Germany is the worlds largest per capita consumer of both wind and solar power. Widn makes some sense, given there are some major windstraights in the country. Solar makes absolutely no sense. Some german companies are doing some interesting research in solar, but no german companies are among the top 10 worldwide in manufacturing solar products. The subsidies of about 0,30€/kwh on generated solar power are a key motivator for this….the country does not have a lot of sun hours on an itnernational scale, and their selfish use of a disproportionate portion of the world solar equipment output deprive other countries that are poorer and could better use the solar panels at a more fair market price for thier own development. Be clear that energy here costs about 0,20€ a Kwh, about 3-4 times the rate in the States.

The reason there is a shortage of skilled workers is because of an aging population, and because the school system is not pushing out enough people with the skills that are necessary.

They are also actively pushing for skilled immigration, but for a number of reasons, they aren’t finding any takers….the language is a barrier, the unwillingness of german companies to promote women or hire foreigners for leading jobs is an impediment…the high tax rate and rather moderate earning ability is another.

I like Germany, I have done very well here, but it is not some form of Utopia.