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July 2003

Don’t Slump

Residents of Munich have plenty of reasons to be positive

There is such a thing as an economic worst-case scenario, this I truly believe. The virtual collapse of three of Munich’s major industries: insurance, finance and the media; the highest unemployment rate in 50 years (30 percent of those out of work are foreigners); empty coffers in the city hall; the shrinkage of the Bavarian endowment fund from 1.5 billion to 240 million; an 8.5 percent slump in tourism; the threat of mounting garbage; former new-economy big shots returning home to live with their parents; crooks and politicians—two difficult-to-separate professions—on every corporate board; and Infineon, Phillip Morris, Microsoft and BMW threatening to move major parts of their operation out of Munich. All this gives me reason to worry. Like someone hidden in a curve at the end of a traffic jam on the motorway, hearing the thunder of trucks behind and knowing that a crash is inevitable, I am sitting here waiting to feel the impact. But just how bad is the economic pile-up going to be? Weimar bad?

The economy in Bavaria began to fester about three years ago, though Minister President Edmund Stoiber, a fully paid-up member of the overbearing first-husbands club, has never stopped telling everyone how well he is doing in his job. Well, perhaps he is, but what about the rest of us, and our jobs? Or lack of them? For many the situation has become so dire that we have begun worrying about the effect of all this worrying. Take this a step further and you may have the answer to Munich’s current malaise. If things are bad but there is nothing an individual can do, it’s probably best to quit worrying and develop a little insouciance. It frees the mind and is often the only way forward when things are looking grim. Fortunately for Munich the person best suited to fostering such an attitude is our mayor Christian Ude. While not playing down Munich’s economic problems, Ude understands that a prosperous economy is not possible without a climate of optimism and confidence. And, having been voted back into office by over 70 percent of the population in the last local election, it is clear that confidence in the genial “Uncle Ude” is high.

There are a few lights on the horizon. One is Galileo, European Satellite System, who will be starting up their operations in Munich and creating some 10,000 new jobs. Another is the city’s decision to convert their software to Linux and thereby stimulate the local IT job market.

A further reason to be optimistic is apparent to anyone who has spent time in Munich: crime in this city is virtually non-existent. It is, on the whole, a safe place, with a scrubbed quality, lush window boxes and elaborate fountains—even peeling facades have a film-set quality about them (see this month’s Last Word). Good fortune too, that so far at least Münchner have suffered none of the traumas presented by international terrorism. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The media continues to play a critical role. Little of the information doled out by the Bavarian state or the city government is uncritically accepted by the Munich media. It is difficult for the city and state governments to crank out economic misinformation and outright lies without being held accountable by non-embedded mainstream journalists. An independent media is still able to function as a collision chamber for the rigid views of the CSU and the SPD, consistently pressing for less extreme measures, including the relentless rejection of “economic wars” at home and abroad.

The cure for the true believer in the economic worse case is admitting that we don’t know enough to predict that things are going to get worse. Admitting genuine ignorance reduces anxiety and opens up spaces for creativity and open-mindedness in our approach to the economic situation in which we find ourselves.

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