[I'm cross-posting this from the immigration blog, since it seems to fit here too]
One of the slogans that pop up in the migrant crisis is that German exports are booming and the country is rich, therefore it can and should accept millions of new migrants.
True, unemployment is low and exports are booming. But that has nothing to do with how ordinary middle-class Germans see their country's financial position. Chancellor Merkel and her party have long sung the praises of the 'lean state', (Schlanker Staat). This translates, as a practical matter, into severe budget cuts in the public sector and privatization. Of course, the German Social Democratic also did party did its part to hollow out the German welfare state in the early 2000s, under Chancellor Schröder. They still haven't recovered from the damage that step did to their reputation.
The result is that many ordinary middle-class Germans experience their country as broke and in decline. They grew up in a country with a solid welfare state and well-funded public services, and have steadily watched those things disappear, slowly but surely, as a result of successive waves of budget-cutting and privatization. Germany doesn't have enough teachers, enough cops, enough university places, enough preschool places, enough money for street repair, for school repair, enough money to keep the trains running on time.
Some cases in point: In the past decade or so, Germany has cut (g) 16,000 police jobs all over the country, including 3,300 in the most populous state, and 2,900 in Berlin. This comes at a time when violent crime in Germany has been increasing steadily. These cuts explain why migrant shelters are (under)staffed by poorly-trained private security forces working in precarious jobs for minimum wage.
According to a recent confidential government report which a German newspaper had to sue to gain access to, 12,000 bridges in Germany (g) need renovation. 3.8 million square meters need urgent repair, a task that will cost tens of billions of dollars. Since local governments don't have the money for the repairs of their streets, they are turning to private industry (g). The national train concern Deutsche Bahn has increased prices every single year for years at a rate higher than the inflation rate (g), while at the same time on-time performance is reaching historic lows (g).
Germany also doesn't have enough teachers. In Germany's most populous state, Northern Rhine-Westphalia, there is a current deficit (g) of 3,560 teaching jobs to handle current student needs, and other federal states have similar problems. The problem is so severe that many German newspapers have created special 'teacher shortage' (g) rubrics to report on the situation. And these projections are based on the needs of current students, without taking into account the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrant children who will need years of labor-intensive remedial instruction. A leading German newspaper recently asked readers (g) to comment on the state of the public schools their children go to, more than 70% half said the schools were in bad condition, 90% said they had been called on to donate time or materials to repair their children's schools, and many said they didn't let their children use the bathrooms in school because they were so dirty and dangerous.
German governments at all levels have gotten out of the business of building state-subsidized affordable housing. They are not only not building new apartments, they are selling the ones they already own. As a result, rental prices and homelessness have increased (g) in Germany regularly over the past 10 years. According to a recent study, 39,000 more people started living on the street in Germany over the past two years: 'The Federal Working Group for Help for the Homeless expects by 2018 a further 61 percent increase in homeless people. By then, around 540,000 people will have no place to live. The cause for the increase in homelessness are, according to the group, high rents and the increasing poverty of lower income groups.' And Germans are angry about increasing rents. A 2013 study (g) by a tenants' association showed that 90 percent felt that there were not enough affordable apartments in large cities, that 97% believed subsidized housing should be maintained, and 89% felt that the state was not doing enough to provide affordable housing. And this was, of course, before hundreds of thousands of new migrants began competing for low-income housing with government vouchers in their hands.
This might be a good time to mention that real wages in Germany have been stagnant for years, and that many new jobs being created are part-time contract labor with no benefits. It is true that Germans still have an excellent standard of living in many ways, but perceptions matter, and lots of Germans perceive that costs are exploding while their incomes stagnate.
This is the needed background to the current immigration debate. Politicians of all stripes warn that Germany must avoid a situation in which middle-class Germans have to compete with hundreds of thousands of refugees for affordable housing and public transportation, and in which the special needs of migrant children drains resources away from German children. This is already happening, and will get much worse in the coming years. Training teachers and building new affordable housing takes years. Further, it will only happen if there is the political will to spend tens of billions of dollars to do it. That does not exist.
So far, Angela Merkel and other mainstream German politicians appear convinced that middle-class Germans will willingly accept competition for housing and scarce public resources and a further reduction in their standard of living, all so that the 'lean state' can accommodate hundreds of thousands of foreigners on the cheap.
I think those politicians are wrong. If middle-class Germans become convinced that their political leaders care more about the needs of foreign newcomers than struggling middle-class Germans, things will get very ugly indeed.