So Much For Solidarität

Here’s something I didn’t know: Germany will pay its citizens to leave the country.

Plagued by high unemployment due to the turmoil of reunification and rigid labour laws, Germany has been helping its skilled and less-skilled jobless workers match up with foreign employers searching for manpower. The country has also been offering financial support to cover moving and transportation costs for the hordes of unemployed Germans in search of jobs across the European Union, and even as far away as Australia and Canada.

Improbably enough, this reminds of a computer game I played years ago called Roller Coaster Tycoon. It allowed the player to win scenarios by building successful amusement parks according to different criteria. One of these criteria was a high park rating, which was basically a proxy for how happy the guests in the park were. Since the game allowed the player to read guests’ thoughts, it was straightforward to satiate their desires. If, for example, a guest was complaining of hunger, the player could build a restaurant or even pick the guest up with a set of pincers and deposit the hungry cargo somewhere in the park where there was a pre-existing burger stand.

After a while, however, another solution to the park rating quandary became evident to me. One could increase the proportion of happy people by placating angry guests, but it was far easier to make the angry guests simply disappear. My preferred method was to snatch up angry guests with the aforementioned pincers and drop them into the nearest body of water where they would drown after a few seconds, the final dip of their poor digital head below the water’s surface corresponding exactly to an uptick in my park rating (Evidently the programmers were not as devious as I, for murder of this kind carried no penalty.).

Even ignoring the ethical implications this was hardly a good solution, of course. If guests were mad because they couldn’t find anything to eat, it would have made far more sense for me to address the root cause by building eateries rather than drowning every guest who started to feel peckish--especially considering that the more guests I killed the more it was costing me in future revenue.

Yet the German government's efforts to cure joblessness by paying people to leave the country exhibits exactly this kind of senselessness. The right solution would be to address the root cause of the joblessness, which is a bevy of regulations that create perverse disincentives for workers to work and employers to employ. And just like with my game, making people disappear is costing the German government future tax revenue that it can’t afford to lose given its aging population, suspicion of immigrants, and bloated welfare state.

Germany’s labor market has liberalized some in the last few years, but in the event of unemployment my immediate proximity to the second-largest lake in Germany would nevertheless have my gaze cast perpetually skyward, attentive for the glint of metal.