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Lars S.

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Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life
von Thomas Geoghegan
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 25,99

10 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
1.0 von 5 Sternen He gets alot wrong about Germany. Read it, but be aware he often only tells half the truth..., 7. November 2010
Just to give you my background, I'm a student of politics with a broad interest in economics as well, and currently live in Berlin. One might say, I tick a lot of boxes to read and comment on the book.

Before starting to look at the book's content, I would like to say, I found the book often difficult to read. I think it's badly edited, I missed a red line running through the book and I soon got bored of his various intermissions of telling irrelevant travel stories. Even worse, most times I put the book away, I was just upset with the book for its content, which I think is in many points simply factually wrong.

At first, I would like point out some methodological flaws of the book, or shall I say the authors research. Geoghegan describes the German economical and social model based on a few visits to Germany, which in a 20 year span might sum up to 6 month. He only visits German cities, concentrates on Berlin in particular and as I understand even on specific areas of Berlin. He makes clear from the start that he writes this book as a labor lawyer (a phrase probably reoccurring about 100 times) and that he is not interested to look at the issue in an objective manner. He rejects any enlightenment from the "right side", as he would know their views from the FT already. This is actually a particular ironic point. Based on the logic that the German right is similar to the US right and has nothing else to tell, one might actually conclude that the German left would accordingly be similar to the US left. Therefore his 'research' would be meaningless to start with. He does not provide the reader with proof to whom he speaks, only giving them code names. He should surely be able to name the more prominent figures, like the former German Union boss or some of the politicians, as some of his major points depend on their contributions. Finally, though I didn't look further into it, his presented numbers seemed not to add up at some points. At one point, I was sure that he was comparing unemployment data from different points in time. The fact that on page 269 he writes about trillions and in a attempt to show the significance of the number writes it out and get's it wrong (he actually only writes Billion) does not strengthen my trust in his handling of statistics and numbers, or the qualification of the editors.

To get back on the bigger picture, his book seems to compare the worst in the US with the best in Europe. I write Europe instead of Germany, because in his first part he throws social policies of different European countries together and thereby creates a picture that is of course more shiny than that of one specific country. Further, as I can't speak for his US examples, he certainly gets lots of facts wrong about Germany and the German model. Actually it is scary how he seems to limit his observations on very specific and single facts and then generalizes them to be valid for Germany in total. In the following I would like to give you some examples:
- he says that the state would pay people money, if they had their elderly parents moving in with them. In fact that is true, if your parents moving in with you need constant care and help. This usually boils down to the fact the children will no longer be able to work, but that the care of their parents builds up to be a full-time job. Further on, it's hardly the state giving out free money, but the money comes from a mandatory insurance for care of the elderly, similar to the mandatory health insurance. In the contrary, a recent ruling from a federal court said that children have to take financial responsibility for the care of their parents in nursing homes, even if they were not in contact for the last 40 years. This is an example how he gets many 'social benefits' wrong.
- he writes that Europeans read much more than in the US and stresses that one can not inform themselves using news on the internet. At this point I was surprised of the picture presented of online media. At least in Germany pure online media such as the Huffington Post is often praised for their high quality of journalism. Also, recently the first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to a purely online news portal in the US. Here I get the feeling that the author is a bit out of touch with the reality. This is an example how I think he makes maybe wrong, but at least improper judgments on how the world functions.
- Geoghegan explains that the German basis social security benefit, Harz 4, would ease unemployed and might even be a general level on which one could life for a few years. In fact there was recently a general debate in Germany, if Harz 4 is sufficient to guarantee a dignified life in Germany. Also, before receiving this specific Social benefit, people will have to use up all their assets, which might include pension savings or the selling of property. Again, he improperly describes the mechanisms of the German social state.
- the author also describes the recent reforms of the German social state as an enlargement of the social state. This hardly holds up to the truth. It is true that in many areas social security reform includes the creation of new schemes or the inclusion of new groups, for example the inclusion of non-married couples or the support for families. However, since the late 80s, the social system in Germany (including health, pension or unemployment) is reduced and benefits are getting cut. Finally, the way the author describes the social-democratic Agenda 2010 sounds like a spinning job of reality, which not even the social democrats in Germany would have dared to present as their view.

Some other myths he presents:
- English is the official language of the EU,
- Berlin's economy is based on students (4% of Berlin's population are students),
- University education in Germany is for free,
- The German semi-state banking sector was not affected by the banking crisis,
- Most Germans would retire with 55 and would end up with more money after retirement.

At this point I could enumerate many more, if I would take another look at the book. I have to say I found it astonishing how he keeps on going making up new facts about the Germany and its social model.

To say something positive about the book, I think Geoghegan often raises the right questions. When he asks if GNP is the defining factor for wealth or happiness, he is surely right when he describes that the equation GNP=happiness is not correct. However, this is hardly new to someone interested in politics. The UN for example publish the Human Development Index for already 20 years. Ironically, the author stresses in a whole chapter the flaws of the GNP measurement, but randomly comes back to the idea that he should support the German model by spending money in Germany and thereby boosting German GNP.
As far as Geoghegan main thesis is concerned that German social democracy (sometimes also called socialism - a no-go in Germany) would be a superior model to the US, I guess some doubts could be raised. I think he rightly describes how work councils, co-determined boards and collective wage agreements shape the German economy and to some extend empower labor in Germany. Here I'm not able to make a comparison to the US as he can. However, again I'm afraid he generalizes from specific examples to the whole German economy. The described mechanisms do only cover parts of Germany's economy. Labor co-determination is only legally obliged for companies from a certain size, in some cases 500 in other 2000 employees, and is therefore hardly a universal principle of the German economy. The collective wage agreements are more and more by-passed by local agreements for certain areas or certain companies to accommodate the specific circumstances of companies. This actually results in a loss of power of Unions in Germany, which is evident in the last 20 or so years. Even with 'strong labor co-determination', labor could not stop that major German industries left and downsized their German factories. If a company is not competitive anymore, labor empowerment can't change that.

So when Geoghegan is right to make valid points on the German model favoring co-determination, there are many other factors resulting in the particular strength of the German model. He argues that Germany is world-leading in the production of many highly specialized and complex industrial products because of strong labor movement. But of course the origin and success of the German economic model also based on the other factors. One example: While I'm not a big fan of stereotypes, it might hold true that a society that is paraphrased to be punctual, straight, well-organized, looking for perfectionism etc. is good in producing high-end quality products better than others. The socialization process and the work environment in different countries simply result in different strength, also in the organization of its economy. The US has strength in creating innovation, providing services or utilizing the American pop-culture resulting in companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple or McDonalds and Coca-Cola. The Italians are world leading in design, creating the world's leading style labels, the Russians are for obvious reasons big in gas and oil and the Germans are better in creating highly complex industry goods. A change in the economic model would in my view not change any of that. I also think that it is hardly possible to transfer the German model for example onto the US, as proposed in the book. Germany's society and political system is based on stability, compromise and security, while the US is a country shaped by stronger political conflict, individual responsibility and the idea that anyone can achieve anything. Therefore the question if Europe would be the better continent is wrong, as it is just a different continent, based on different basic values and beliefs which results in different social and economical models. I think it is as easy, or better as complex and complicated as this. The fact that Germany has a historically grown model of stronger labor influence might favor the German economy in some instances, but it surely is not the one and only defining factor. The same holds true for the idea that a strong labor influence in Germany would result in higher levels of media readership, a better understanding of democracy and all the other things Geoghegan credits it with. The world cannot be explained in back vs. right, right vs. wrong, but this is what Geoghegan tries to do in his book.

Finally, I also wanted to mention that I often felt offended by the authors reoccurring comparisons of Germany with Nazi Germany. When he writes "Germany is dark" and "For what I argue depends on a country that not so long ago had a government based on murder" I do not understand what the author is trying to say. Does the author dare to tell me that the basis of Germany's society, my personal value and believe system, is not different from that of 60 years ago? When he describes that a New Year's night in Germany reminds him of a 'firestorm' or a 'night raid on Berlin' reenacted by German citizens, I'm speechless the same way as when he puts a German senior into a SS-uniform and calls him a murderer. I found these episodes personally offending, sickening and making me doubt the author moral integrity, not even to mention ability to observe and comment on Germany.


Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
von Dick Winters
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 13,99

7 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Das Buch ist gut, gibt neue Blickwinkel, aber vieles ist leider auch Wiederholung, 12. August 2010
Nachdem ich Band of Brothers zuerst als Serie gesehen hatte, dann das Buch von Ambrose gelesen hatte war der nächste logische Schritt für mich auch das Buch von Winters zu lesen.

Ein Kommentar zuerst, man merkt dass Ambrose ein Historiker ist der schon viele Bücher geschrieben hat und dieses Buch wahrscheinlich Winters erstes Buch gewesen ist. Dementsprechend fand ich Ambrose's Band of Brother hatte einen besseren Fluss in seiner Erzählung und oftmals waren seine Beschreibungen für mich auch besser nachzuvollziehen. Das soll jetzt keine Kritik an Winters sein; nach der Lektüre kann ich mir erst vorstellen wir kompliziert es ist eine Kampfhandlung ohne Zeichnung mit Worten nachzuzeichnen. Trotzdem ist das Ambrose meiner Ansicht nach besser gelungen.

Etwas verwirrend war auch, dass einige Details sich in den Büchern von Ambrose und Winters widersprechen. Das fand ich schon etwas verwirrend...

Winters Buch ist sehr interessant, da es einen längeren Zeithorizont mit einbezieht (Winter's Zeit vor Easy und nach dem Krieg). Auf der anderen Seite Beschreibt er Dinge auch aus der Sicht des Regiments oder des Bataillons und setzt dadurch die Kampfhandlungen von Easy in einen größeres Bild. Das sind alles eindeutig Pros.

Ein Kontra ist für mich leider dass das Buch vieles (manchmal dachte ich fast wortgleich) erzählt was in Ambrose's Buch schon gesagt wurde. Daher war viel beim Lesen ein bisschen Leerlauf für mich. Ein Kontra ist wie oben schon angesprochen auch den schlechteren Lesefluss des Buches.

Pros: größerer Zeithorizont, mehr Details zu Winter's Karriere in der Army, neue Geschichten und Einzelheiten
Kontras: schlechtere Redefluss, viel Wiederholung


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