The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cheer Up, Germany!

In today's NYT we learn that the German government is attempting to combat low German morale with some upbeat advertising:

From then on, as this slickly produced spot broadcast on German television continues, a succession of people, famous and not famous, appears, each speaking a segment of a larger inspirational message.

"A butterfly can cause a typhoon," a well-known television hostess says. A young Asian woman holding a baby follows with, "The blast of wind that comes from its wings may uproot trees kilometers away."

The television message includes gay and handicapped people speaking from among the concrete pillars of Berlin's recently opened Holocaust Memorial, the Olympic figure skating champion Katarina Witt and a cluster of small children pointing straight into the camera and shouting the main slogan: "Du bist Deutschland!" - "You are Germany!"

So what's the problem?

But it has now settled pretty deeply in the collective awareness that unification has been an economic and a spiritual failure. It cost, and still costs, a staggering amount of money in financial transfers from the former West to the poorer and smaller former East, where the money seems to have vanished without a trace.

Now, the westerners are unhappy because the disappearance of all that money is seen as the root of Germany's economic stagnation and high unemployment. The easterners are notoriously unhappy because life is less secure than it used to be under Communism, and, as this cycle continues, the westerners are irritated that the easterners are unhappy.

So, how are the Germans taking this ad campaign?

"One would like to see how the scriptwriters who concocted such nonsense would explain to a 50-year-old engineer that he had lost his job only because he forgot that August Thyssen, Ferdinand Porsche and other famous workers of the German past once also started from scratch," Mr. Jessen continued, referring to a 19th-century mining and steel magnate and the sports car maker.

Perhaps the stupidest course of action for any government (except, of course, for blaming the bad times on Jews) is to try and convince people that bad times are actually good times. People know good times and they know bad times, and no amount of advertising is going to convince them that good=bad.

Read the whole thing, and then read Ann Althouse, who has more:

This story got me thinking about Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech. People who are already unhappy about the economy do not like to hear that they ought to solve the problem by not being unhappy.


  • So, are they saying that Germany is a butterfly?

    By Blogger Mike, at 12:30 PM  

  • "People know good times and they know bad times"

    That's generally true, although many people are clueless about their own financial situations in the grand scheme of things. For instance, I saw a survey once that asked people about their own finances, then told them about various plans to raise or lower taxes or spending or whatever, and asked them whether they thought those plans would help them. Most were totally clueless, such as people making $18,000 who were under the impression that if they dropped dead, their kids would have to pay half of the thousand bucks they had in a checking account because of the estate tax.

    By Blogger MDS, at 1:12 PM  

  • Alright, that's a good point. However, I do think that people tend to be pretty good on picking up how we're doing in the "macro" sense.

    Even if that's not the case, government advertising isn't going to change their opinions whether or not those opinions are stupid.

    Mike (1st comment Mike), they are, apparently, butterflies who misuse chaos theory metaphors.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:20 PM  

  • I think that people generally know bad times but don't you think you see just as much bitching during good times as you do during bad times? Like how environmentalism has gone crazy with the doomsaying even though environmental conditions are improving. Or how people today preach about the gap between the rich and poor even though the poor are much better off now than they were fifty or a hundred years ago. Of course, I live in Madison. People in this town will always think the world is spinning out of orbit.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 1:55 PM  

  • Sure, but environmental problems aren't personal. Global Warming has no affect on Joe Schmo. When people are poor and out of work, though, the six degrees of separation kick in, and people start to feel the econ downswing. No one ever says "did you hear about Johnny? Global Warming killed him."

    Well, maybe you do hear that in Madison, but not amongst the population in general.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:00 PM  

  • I'll grant you that some enviro probs might be improving but I apparently I missed the newsflash on the reversal of global warming...someone please direct me to the source of THAT report as I'd like to see it.

    By Anonymous Andrea, at 6:19 PM  

  • I don't think people are that perceptive on the macro sense unless things are really bad. Depending on one's own personal experience an overall notion that the country is doing well can change someone's impression. A local unemployment scenario can be seen as being related to poor opportunities locally and proximate causes in an otherwise good ecomomy or just part of the overall bleak scenario. It can also be how you construe things. If things are construed as suck now, but opportunities abound, that could work.

    As for these particular ads, they do seem a bit dopey. Also things have probably sucked long and pervasively enough in Germany for people to know better, but it might motivate them anyway.

    As for the news flash on the environment, I believe Andrea is right in that several problems have significantly improved, but others have continued to worsen. Also, I beleive I have heard "improving" used a lot, but it turns out to be in the "getting worse less rapidly" sense.

    By Anonymous scott, at 7:36 PM  

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