ZEW President Franz on Reform Policy and New Reform Commissions


This piece appeared in the March 2003 edition of the ZEWnews.

Geier Sturzflug

About twenty years ago, the band “Geier Sturzflug” was at the top of the West German charts with a hit song. Its chorus was something along the lines of: “Now let’s roll up our sleeves again and raise the gross national product” („Jetzt wird wieder in die Hände gespuckt, wir steigern das Bruttosozialprodukt“).
The public called this type of song “Wendehit,” whatever that was supposed to be. It could just as well have been interpreted as an attack against meritocracy. Be that as it may, perhaps the band was trying to capture or convey a (lingering) sense of new beginnings. Whether or not they rightly did so is open to interpretation in the present context, since the intention of the songwriters then was in stark contrast to the intention of those responsible for the “Gerd Show,” a song currently in the charts which openly mocks a leading politician. Was it not worth their time to write a catchy song calling for urgently needed reforms? 

Let’s be serious. It is not a sign of excessive impatience that people get tired of constant new commissions being set up to write reform papers, regardless of how high-ranking and qualified these expert groups may be, who are more and more often confronted with the problem of having to reinvent the wheel almost every time. For almost all reform projects, a series of extensive expert opinions exists, written by highly regarded expert committees: councils of experts, scientific advisory councils, Kronberger Kreis, Enquete Commissions, etc. In some cases, the members in former commissions even overlap with those in the new ones. In other words, the “usual suspects” are typically chosen to sit in commissions and to have their ability to suffer tested once more. Let’s just say this task is definitely not subject to entertainment tax.
No, now it’s the policy makers who must roll up their sleeves, metaphorically speaking. Policy makers and especially the governing parties should make use of the expertise provided by the ministries to write a summary of all the reform proposals highlighting and evaluating their individual advantages and disadvantages. In the process, it could be useful to hear the authors of the proposals (again), but then that should be that. Afterwards, policy makers must decide on reforms and start implementing them.
A far-reaching reform policy will of course result in countless objections from opponents who will complain about unfair treatment at the first hint of a reform. Nevertheless, the federal government must face the issue in order to live up to its oath of office, to “... dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, promote their welfare, protect them from harm ...” (Article 56 German Basic Law). One could even take a page from Mrs. T’s book. Who said there can only be one “iron lady?” However, the introduction of a poll tax as a municipal tax should be discouraged, as it ended Mrs. T’s political career. One way the federal government could overcome certain groups’ opposition towards reforms is to promise to introduce the reform on a trial basis wherever possible, i.e. to have another parliamentary vote after five to ten years.
Why can't I get the melody out of my head?
“Jetzt wird wieder in die Hände gespuckt ...”