THE SECRET TO GERMANY’S HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS: ITS VALUES ARE THE OPPOSITE OF SILICON VALLEY’S
If Silicon Valley ever formed a political party, it might look a lot like the current iteration of Germany’s Free Democrats, or FDP. In the 2017 German election, the FDP offered a platform that reads like what Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg would come up with if they decided to disrupt the political landscape. Its primary aspirations include creating a startup-friendly economy, digitizing Germany’s bureaucracy, and reducing income taxes, which currently top off at 45% for the highest earners. A few weeks ago the re-invented party returned to the parliament with 10 per cent of the vote in the election.
The FDP’s leader is a magnetic 38-year-old named Christian Lindner. He sits amongst an upcoming generation of political leaders that bring new values to the table. Like Trudeau, Kurz and Marcon, in Canada, Austria and France respectively, Lindner has taken over a rusty party and gave it a new look. After the Brexit announcement, his party sent white trucks to the streets of London that read: "Dear start-ups, keep calm and move to Berlin" (see picture).
In an August interview with the Economist, he explained that in his country, “entrepreneurship has long been undervalued." He continues by saying that "societies that are prepared to be more daring and have efficient capital markets have overtaken” Germany. He argues that German citizen could be “world leaders” in the new economy, “but we have to want it.”
But here is the thing: The great majority of Germans do not seem to want it. In an off-script response to a heckler during a speech about start-up culture’s positive attitude toward failure, Lindner decried the fact that “people would rather go into public service than start something themselves.” In her article, Rebecca Schuman says that for Germans, a good work-life balance does not involve a free gym membership or free meals on the corporate campus to encourage 90-hour weeks. Though we are known for our engineering and technology achievements, the majority of our country are late movers or even laggards. We are full of happy shoe salespeople and grocery-store cashiers, who have completed 18-month training courses for those professions and earn their salary with full benefits. Germans may enjoy technology in their homes, but most of them still are not buying what Lindner is selling. We need to bring back our Vorsprung durch Technik.