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Germany's Brain Drain

The New York Times hits a favorite theme in foreign coverage of Germany: the nation's calcified bureacracy is driving all the clever, ambitious Germans to Britain and the U.S.:

Benedikt Thoma recalls the moment he began to think seriously about leaving Germany. It was in 2004, at a New Year’s Day reception in nearby Frankfurt, and the guest speaker, a prominent politician, was lamenting the fact that every year thousands of educated Germans turn their backs on their homeland.

“That struck me like a bolt of lightning,” said Mr. Thoma, 44, an engineer then running his family’s elevator company. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I stay here when the future is brighter someplace else?’ ” In December, as his work with the company became an intolerable grind because of labor disputes, Mr. Thoma quit and made plans to move to Canada. In its wide-open spaces he hopes to find the future that he says is dwindling at home.

As soon as he lands a job, Mr. Thoma, his wife, Petra, and their two teenage sons will join the ranks of Germany’s emigrants...

Caveats aside, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Germany has become less attractive for people in fields like medicine, academic research and engineering. Those who leave cite chronic unemployment, a rigid labor market, stifling bureaucracy, high taxes and the plodding economy — which, though better recently, still lags behind that of the United States.

As Dr. Friedrich Boettner, a German orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, puts it: “I make more money. I’ve got more opportunity. New York was the chance of my lifetime.”

German salaries, he said, are not competitive with those in the United States or Britain, and the hierarchical structure of some professions in Germany discourages ambitious young people from staying. The medical field, in which advancement is controlled by powerful chief doctors, has been hit particularly hard, with 2,300 doctors leaving in 2005 alone....

In Mr. Thoma’s view, the root of the problem is deeper. Germany, he said, has a “blockage” in its society.

“Germans are so complacent,” he said, sitting at the dining table in his neat-as-a-pin home here. “They don’t want to change anything. Everything is discussed endlessly without ever reaching a solution.”

[Dr. Boettner] dreaded the formality of the medical system, rooted in a society where people still address their superiors with formal titles like “Herr Professor Doktor.”

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