Ian Taylor seems to have reviewed a book that he wished someone had written about Germany (Reviews, May SR). Unfortunately I think he dismisses too lightly the book Oliver Nachtwey actually wrote.
To expect a book about the German economy in the present day to contain a critique of the German Revolution and the Nazi period is rather a stretch.
What Nachtwey does deal with in Germany’s Hidden Crisis is the central myth of the German social contract, the notion that everyone in Germany is through time getting better off.
He argues that the so called elevator society, everyone is going up, is being replaced first with stagnation and then with a downward mobility as the economy is unable to deliver the benefits that it once did.
This is an important argument as the German export led economy is held up around Europe and the rest of the world as model.
Nachtwey shows clearly that one of the consequences of this is the rise of the right and the AfD as social discontent becomes more widespread. Central to this analysis is the programme introduced by the then SPD government at the time around Agenda 2010 that led to the Hartz IV legislation.
This institutionalised a two speed economy and a degree of precarity inside the German workforce. It was agreed at the top level of the trade unions and severely limited the rights of a huge number of German workers.
The book is written by a sociologist but is very readable and consequently has been very popular. This is good as it carries an important message. It is at its weakest where it directly discusses class as Nachtwey introduces a whole range of sociological ideas derived from Max Weber. Nevertheless the book calls for a return to a society of solidarity and opposition to the bosses.
It deserves to be widely read outside Germany, attacking as it does the notion of a common interest between bosses and workers and the idea that at the heart of Europe there is a place where workers’ rights are respected.