May 2011


Is the Republican Party in the US ever right about anything?

For about as long as I can remember, going back to Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, the Republican Party in the United States has tended to espouse three core beliefs:

First, the United States has high taxes and these high taxes hurt the economy because they discourage rich people from investing in the businesses that create jobs and economic growth;

Second, government should not regulate business under any circumstance (with the corollary that all unions should be banned/destroyed); and

Third, government should stay out of everybody’s private lives, except in the case of gays or women who are pregnant.

Admittedly when I lived in the United States I was vaguely sympathetic with their claim about taxes and business regulations, even as I virulently disagreed with them on the third point. However, the longer that I’ve lived in Germany, the less I’ve come to understand the claims made by Republicans with regard to taxes or business regulation.

Here’s why:

  • I pay 19% VAT at the supermarket, bookstore, clothing store, and most other places when I buy things.
  • Some 40% of my income vanishes out of my paycheck even before I see it.
  • Gasoline is taxed at a rate of at least 1€ per liter – and when I did the calculations two weeks ago, while people in the US were bitching about paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline, gasoline was going for an eye-watering 8.47 US dollars per gallon in Germany.
  • The German government requires everybody to have health insurance, whether public or private.

If I listen to and believe the Republicans and their characterization of the situation in the United States with regard to taxes and business regulation—and then compare these facts to the facts concerning Germany—I would assume that Germany must be one awful place to do business, that people are living homeless on the street because they cannot afford anything, and that the people must be about ready to revolt.

But, the thing is, Germany isn’t an awful place to do business. In fact it is a pretty good place to do business. The economy is growing and the unemployment rate is falling.

In fact, the economy is growing despite the fact that, by law, firms in Germany must give their employees at least 24 paid vacation days off every year, plus one paid legal holiday – these are the minimums required by law. I was shocked to learn this while preparing my lecture for the students: on the other side of the pond, in the United States, there is no legally required minimum number of paid vacation days or paid legal holidays.


Despite the fact that firms must give their German employees a minimum of 25 paid days off every year, the economy is growing.

And we will not even discuss the awful situation for mothers in the United States—but parents of new born children in Germany have far more rights and are protected by law in ways that US parents cannot begin to fathom.

Yet Germany’s economy is growing—and growing despite the legal requirements for holidays, growing despite the heavy tax burden, growing despite the expensive fuel taxes and growing despite having to help pay for health insurance.

So the question, at least for me, is if Germany can sustain economic growth despite its high taxes and heavy business regulation, why couldn’t the United States sustain economic growth with even just a moderate increase in taxes, taxes that would help to pay down the debt?

Further, since it is, at least to me, readily clear that the Republican Party is incredibly wrong about taxes and business regulation, why should anybody believe that they know what’s best for gays or for pregnant women? I already know that the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history when it comes to same sex marriage and I know that the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history when it comes to women’s right to choose.

Actually, try as I might, I can’t think of anything where the Republican Party, as a whole, is right.

11 comments to Is the Republican Party in the US ever right about anything?

  • Very good points. Points that are one of the reasons that if I could leave the US and exercise my EU citizenship in a way that would allow me to bring Big D with me AND allow him to work, I would seriously consider a move to Europe.

    I actually did a work-up of benefits and taxes, etc. comparing what it cost me for my employer provided health coverage in the US, along with my tax burden vs. what similar lifestyle and coverage would be in a couple of EU countries (UK and The Netherlands) back in 2008. Strangely, I came out with approximately the same out of pocket/pay check amounts by the time I leveled the playing field. Put another way, my financial burdens would be quite similar to those I had in the US , prior to my current employment issues.

    Speaking of those issues, the biggest difference I saw in Europe is that when you lose your job, the rug gets pulled out from under you but that rug was laying on a nice sturdy floor. Unlike in the US where the rug gets pulled out from under you just as your former employer puts a noose around your neck, and when you look down at where the rug was you see a trap door.

    I prefer the European sturdy floor to the US trap door.

  • Michele J

    Just curious about the one paid holiday? Our employees get 9 in our state: New Year’s, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost, German Unity, Reformation, Xmas 1 and Xmas 2. You must mean German Unity as a national holiday – the rest are specified by the states and range from 8 to 12 per year but are just as legally binding. Also, most food, print items and local transport have only 7% VAT.

  • Bavaria gets 12 guaranteed state holidays (And Augsburgers get an extra one for a whopping total of 13). Yay Catholics!

    In the opposite direction, are there any protests up there regarding instituting tuition for university students? I know Bavaria has a 500€ tuition charge now (per semester? year?) and people are irate about it.

  • I wouldn’t complain about the cost of gas if we actually had a decent mass transit system like you do there in Berlin. Sadly, they cut bus service to campus for the summer. And even when the bus runs, it takes an hour to go a distance that takes me 10-15 minutes in my car. As for riding a bike around here: good luck on not getting killed by some crazed motorist.

    Now, if my gas taxes were rolled into better mass transit systems, I wouldn’t complain …

    Oh, and I think that Betty Ford — and Gerald too — were pro-choice.

  • I cannot compare the German system to the American one as I haven’t had the pleasure of the latter, but I find it difficult to justify all the taxes and extra premiums people are asked to fork out here.

    “The German government requires everybody to have health insurance, whether public or private.” This is true, but the service is still abysmal.

    Public transport is good – in Berlin at least – but expensive, even before taxes are poured into it too.

    And I’m pretty sure most of the public holidays fell on weekends this year. Tough Scheiße, tut mir Leid, no holiday at all.

    Germany’s economy is growing so they say, but if you start badly it’s not hard to look good after that. Personally, I think it’s a myth, perpetuated by the fact everyone else’s economy has taken a nosedive.
    It’s still incredibly difficult to get a job in Berlin, and employers are given free rein to screw employees on work placements and €400 a month jobs. If the economy is booming, then who’s benefiting apart from Deutsche Bank?

    I guess all I’m saying is the American system must be frickin’ awful if you’re happy with the German one.

  • It’s funny what living over here in Germany will do to you. I’m completely won over (not that I was ever even close to being republican in the first place).

    Every time an American complains to me about gas I shut them up by telling them they don’t pay enough for it. It should be more expensive to help fund better roads and public transportation. They complain about taxes, I say pretty much the same thing except that they should be funding better social benefits.

    My consumption of commercial goods is probably, well it is, significantly less than it would have been with the comparable salary in the US – but you know what? I don’t miss it, my overall standard of living is much much higher and I get excellent health care, 30 days of vacation, a ton of holidays and up to three years’ maternity leave.

    I just got back from a trip to California where I found myself telling people all too often that they were delusional thinking they had it good there, and that they should ask themselves if low taxes and cheap gas were worth living in a third world country without enough vacation to get out of it.

    And then most of them just blinked and went on to ask me if/when I planned on moving back. Um— try never.

  • Ted

    I just want you to know that since the time of Ronald Reagan the tax breaks on the rich have created millions, maybe even Billions of jobs! Since he allowed the closing of that very first light bulb factory in California even though it was profitable, mega-millions of jobs have been created in Mexico, Thailand, Phillipines, Vietnam, India and 90 percent of the crap WalMart sells is from the biggest economic empire in the world….wait for it…wait for it …China! Oh. no, there have been few jobs created in the U. S. but bigness is not concerned with boundaries only with finding cheap labor with no Unions or workers rights. Ted

  • Reko

    The answer to your questions is: No. The Republican Party is never right about anything in the US, at least, it hasn’t been at least since the end of World War II.

  • Reko

    Addendum: The Democratic Party is only occasionally right about things in the US. Many Democratic Party politicians pander endlessly to the right of the actual political center in the US, because they take anyone even slightly on the progressive side of issues for granted and are more interested in getting re-elected than in speaking the truth. The major exceptions to this are Dennis Kucinich and Al Franken. The Green Party in the US is generally right about most social and political issues. Please note that these are not simply my own personal political opinions, but a well established facts.

  • Cynical Queer – Good points — but I would say that here government is more upfront about the taxes and.. I might note… that Germany doesn’t have the debt problems that plague the US, Greece, Ireland, or Portugal.

    Michele J – I missed the variations in VAT — I meant to include them. Thanks for pointing them out. As for the holidays, the study I looked at only counted federally mandated vacation days–state level holidays didn’t count in the study. Either way, I don’t see firms running from Bavaria and it’s 12 (or 13) mandated legal holidays to Berlin, where we get a max of 9 (this year 6 thanks to weekends)…

    Sarah1976 – The funny thing is that tuition/fees in Germany are quite low, and while they are high in the US, in-state tuition and fees at most public colleges/universities in the United States do not come close to covering the costs of education. Further, it surprises many Americans to find out that public universities do not get that much funding from the States they are located in. Indiana University receives less than 20% of its funding from the State of Indiana. Only community colleges receive close to 100% of their funding from the State. Here in Germany university budgets come almost completely from the State–and faculty salaries are set by the State, not negotiated individually.

    MT – The Traveling Ph.D. — communities need to focus on public transportation, that’s for sure. As for Ford — he’s not in my memory–and I might note that Richard Nixon was the one who signed NEPA–so while he was a first rate asshole, he was way ahead of the curve on the environment. That is to say, individual Republicans can be OK, but the party as a whole is shit.

    Irish Berliner – The American system is pretty bad. Here cancer is a bummer and a challenge to overcome. In America, if you do not have health insurance, cancer can bankrupt you and your family — and even if you do have health insurance it might very well bankrupt you. The safety net here is much stronger.

    Megan – I met somebody once who dismissed anything positive I had to say about living in Europe by saying everybody over here were “Socialists” — to which I thought: (a) you do not know how to define the word, and (b) maybe I am a socialist.

    Ted – The globalization of jobs has hurt a lot of people — not just factory workers in America, but also factory workers in Germany. That said, some how Germany is figuring out how to get past it — as are large swaths of America. The 1950s are gone, it’s not worth trying to go back in time.

    Reko – Glad to know Republicans are always wrong. I’ll agree that Democrats are not perfect either… but really, the Green Party is generally right?

  • Reko

    Yes, the Green Party is generall correct.