Locust Capitalism

Germany invented socialism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were Germans. The Social Democratic movement that shaped the modern European welfare state also originated in Germany. Although the country profited greatly from its reintegration into the world trading system after World War II, Germany never really came to terms with Anglo-Saxon capitalism and skepticism about it still runs deep.

Now, with Germany’s economy no longer functioning smoothly, capital moving abroad, and unemployment rising, criticism of capitalism is again gaining momentum. The public is upset about top managers’ salaries and the fact that big German companies fire workers despite record profits. In response, the government has urged managers to publish their incomes and abolished the bank secrecy laws that were once considered sacrosanct.

This new critique of capitalism recently culminated in a series of attacks by the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Müntefering. He accused entrepreneurs who outsource production to low-wage countries of showing excessive greed and lack of social responsibility, and he compared the managers of international equity funds to a plague of locusts that occupy companies, exploit them, and move on after their destructive work is done.

These attacks brought Müntefering vast public support and triggered a major debate. Germany’s media largely supports the critique. Günter Grass, a Nobel Prize winner in literature, joined the chorus of critics, complaining about the fading of political power in a time of globalization. He ridiculed today’s conditions as “stock market-defined liberty.”