Strong State, Strong Schools? The German System

Anglo-Americans habitually disparage the “socialist” Europeans, as if it were just or fair to lump all Continental economies under one pejorative label.  Rather than relying on epithets, however, would-be economic and educational reformers should take a closer look at Germany, where the combination of regulated markets and the welfare state (what the Germans call the Soziale Marktwirtschaft, the “social market economy”) has produced six decades of prosperity.

In Germany, the youth unemployment rate hovers below nine percent, less than half the E.U. average and closer to one third of Spain’s catastrophic numbers—not to mention almost half of the current rate for American youth.  Germany’s general unemployment rate is below that of most industrialized states, and the robust German manufacturing sector offers the kind of well-paying skilled and semiskilled jobs that Americans have come to believe are gone forever.  The combination of a well-educated workforce and an economy that can provide jobs for so many workers is as appealing as it is rare elsewhere these days.

Much of the credit for that combination goes to the German system of education and vocational training.  But the relationship of those successes to particular quirks of German society means that this success has been difficult for other nations to replicate, even in Europe.

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