Class Struggle from Above: How Well-To-Do is the German Commuter?

A Guest Post by Tai De

car dashboardThomas Straubhaar heads the Hamburgisches Weltwirtschaftsinstitut, or Hamburg Institute of International Economics, a not-for-profit research institute, an enthusiastic buyer of local goods, he says. Clearly, he doesn’t like long-distance rides – and he doesn’t like the commuter tax allowance. It only helped well-to-do sole earners. Families weren’t the real beneficiaries, and society had to bear costs from traffic jams, greater risks of accidents, and urban sprawl. Rather, commuters should pay an additional tax, to compensate the urban population for the harm commuters inflicted on them (“damit könnten Städter für das Leid entschädigt werden, das ihnen Auto fahrende Pendler antun”).

I don’t believe that Straubhaar is really targeting the commuter tax allowance – if any political party supports it his move, it would be the Greens, but the allowance won’t go away. The Free Democrats (FDP) rather favors an increased allowance, to compensate commuters for rising petrol prices. And the two big parties, the Christian Democrats  (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD) won’t dare to alienate their classical voters – even if Straubhaar doesn’t believe it:

“Wouldn’t a commuter tax go down well with the millions of urban people? Why don’t politicians seize the opportunity?” (Wäre nicht die Pendlersteuer eine Forderung, mit der sich bei Millionen von Stadtmenschen politisch punkten ließe? Wieso nutzen Politiker(innen) diese Chance nicht?)

Who is well-to-do may be a matter of definition – but those targeted may not feel that they were well-to-do (with or without reason). However, it is easy to label your target well-to-do before making unpopular suggestions, and Mr. Straubhaar’s suggestion isn’t popular. Maybe it is because people don’t buy the allegation that the beneficiaries of the allowance are generally well-to-do. Maybe Mr. Straubhaar himself is way too well-to-do to be believed. At any rate, it seems to me that in Mr. Straubhaar’s view, the Hamburg city is too chique to tolerate all those country bumpkins there. After all, the German word for “harm” is “Leid” – and Leid is something a perpetrator inflicts on a victim.

The comments underneath the Welt article with quotes from Straubhaar seem to confirm my impression that politicians who would “seize the opportunity” and scrap the allowance wouldn’t do themselves a favour. There is no real discussion. Straubhaar seems to hate his audience, and his audience hates him back.

Straubhaar may not like it – and the Free Democrats, at odds with him concerning the commuter tax allowance, but not in general – may not like it either, but West Germany’s post-war consensus was built on exactly the allowances and financial transfers (welfare state) which he calls into question.

This comment by “Systemkritiker” (system critic) is indicative of the general mood on the “Die Welt” thread:

Great. New taxes. Then we will get even more big cities because everyone needs to go there, and even more welfare recipients, because people are jobless. That guy is deranged. Just like all politicians. Said it and boarded his fat [Audi ] A8. Blithering idiots give us counsel. (Richtig so. Neue Steuern. Dann haben wir endlich noch mehr Großstädte weil alle hinziehen müssen und noch mehr Hilfsempfänger weil sie keinen Job mehr haben. Der Typ ist doch gestört. Wie alle Politiker auch.
Sprachs und setzte sich in den fetten A8.
Dummschwätzer regieren und beraten uns.)

And that’s still sort of an optimistic interpretation, because Straubhaar is hardly giving “Systemkritiker” advice. He  doesn’t even notice “Systemkritiker”.

It’s a general mood. People everywhere may be chronically angry at those who rule their countries. But Germans don’t occupy Wall Street, or the Frankfurt city. They vote – and as every leftist or rightist member of parliament seems to cause the moderate democrats huge pain, they’d better take the anger seriously.

If property on the Elbchaussee or in Bremen-Schwachhausen should need big fences and alarm equipment in future, this won’t do their value any good.

P.S.: I don’t agree with “Systemkritiker”. I’m almost sure that Mr. Straubhaar goes t work by bike. But the bike needs to be locked away at his working place, because it’s too good to get stolen.

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Previously by Tai De:

» No Communists at Deutsche Welle, but… March 11, 2012

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