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Elite Schools seen as "Bastions of Privilege" rather than "Engines of Social Justice"

The Economist's columnist Lexington highly recommends a new book about an old problem: "The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" by Daniel Golden (,
Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to "sporting prowess". The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks. (...)
Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. (...)
Two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies -- Asian-Americans and poor whites.
The above quote -- including the comparison with Europe on social mobility in the brackets -- is from the review in the respected British The Economist. (HT: Don)
Daniel Golden was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his "series of stories that exposed huge college admissions advantages enjoyed by some privileged white students", available for free at the Wall Street Journal.

Check out the response from Mad Minerva, an Asian-American grad student.

The Greatest Asset of the American

"The greatest asset of the American, so often ridiculed by Europeans, is his belief in progress," wrote a Swede, Victor Vinde, in 1945. Today, two-thirds of Americans think they will achieve the American Dream of self-improvement at some point in their lifetime, wrote The Economist. This year, Americans will spend almost 700 Million Dollars on self-help books. "The Purpose-Driven Life", a 40-day religious course of self-improvement, has sold 25 Million copies, more than any other non-fiction book except the Bible.
Dazzled – and slightly amused – by the same can-do-mentality is Gerhard Waldherr, a former US-reporter for Stern, GEO, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and now freelancing in Munich. His slim paperback "Amerika, du hast es besser"
(, is only available in German. The title translates to "America, you got it better." He describes his smile-inducing adventures when subscribing to various community college courses in downtown Manhattan, including: "How to change your identity", "How to write a book on anything in three weeks", "How to mary rich", "How to speak French in three hours", "How to loose weight with hypnosis" and many more. Enjoy!

Using the United States to Scare Germans

"Amerikanische Verhältnisse" means "American conditions" and is a quite popular phrase to scare Germans about hire-and-fire capitalism, poverty, crime, health care etc. Olaf Gersemann, currently with Financial Times Deutschland, wrote a book about it in 2004. The German original is called Amerikanische Verhältnisse. Die falsche Angst der Deutschen vor dem Cowboy-Kapitalismus and the English translation is Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths, American Reality.
Liberale Stimme has written a Review in German. Synopisis from the publisher:
Europeans and many American pundits believe that while the U.S. economy may create more growth, Europeans have it better when it come to job security and other factors. Olaf Gersemann, a German reporter who came to America, found the reality quite different. He checked facts and found the market freedoms in America create a more flexible, adaptable and prosperous system then the declining welfare states of old Europe.
Just last week (August 4, 2006) the semi-tabloid Berliner Zeitung chose "Amerikanische Verhältnisse" for the headline of an editorial about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in Germany and the increasing unfairness (income, wealth, education, health care). The editorial did not analyse the economic conditions in the United States, but only dealt with the socio-economic trends in Germany and concluded that American conditions are now reality in Germany as well. A closer look at the socio-economic situation in the United States (just like in Germany) would reveal good and bad aspects, but only the bad aspects are featured in the phrase "Amerikanische Verhältnisse." Some German papers write about the good aspects of the US economic system, many papers and politicians recommend more U.S. type reforms, and the term "American Dream" is still popular and still has a good ring to it, but whenever the phrase Amerikanische Verhältnisse is used, it sounds really bad, because it excludes what is good in America.
Bret Stephens wrote in The Wall Street Journal in January:
Amerikanische Verhaltnisse--"American Conditions"--is a term of disdain in German politics, meant to suggest the inhumanity of American capitalism. Press reports repeatedly portray the U.S. as a place in which the have-nots are savagely exploited by the haves, where civil liberties are in rapid decline, and in which a government that is by turns buffoonish and cunning schemes to gain control of world oil supplies.
(Mr Stephens' interesting editorial covered Chancellor Merkel's visit, her criticism of Guantanamo, and the German public's views of the US. Unfortunately, he misunderstood a poll and wrote "One-third of young Germans reportedly believe the Bush Administration instigated the attacks of September 11." More about this in the Atlantic Review in about two weeks.)

Amazon Germany sells Olaf Gersemann's book in German (1) and the cheaper English translation (2). Amazon USA has the English translation (3):
  (2)               (3)

In May 2006 the conservative Die Welt used the phrase Amerikanische Verhältnisse in the headline to express the concern that companies could be confronted with a flood of law suits due to the new anti-discrimination law in Germany. The United States is popular for references or comparisions. The Netherlands or Denmark, which had pretty successful reforms, are sometimes mentioned as role models, but do not get as much coverage as the US.
The Economist wrote about successful tough welfare reform two weeks ago:
Welfare reform was once regarded as a harsh, right-wing, America-only idea. But an unexpected lesson of the past ten years is that it enjoys much wider political appeal. Within America, its success has silenced the former fierce opposition of left-wing Democrats, which Mr Clinton had overruled. For the Labour government in Britain and for social democrats in Europe, reform offers a way to reintegrate people who would otherwise live in a welfare apartheid. Furthermore, it is a way to defend generous support for the poor—as long as they find work.
Hat tip for the Economist article to Don, who also summarized another Economist article.
A related post in Atlantic Review:
Germany in danger of "Americanization" without the good points.
A related post in Medienkritik's Unemployment: Kannapolis Instead of Chemnitz.

The American Dream and the Future of Employment

The recent Economist article The rich, the poor and the growing gap between them looks at the often quoted American Dream.  The author critically remarks "The fruits of productivity gains have been skewed towards the highest earners, and towards companies, whose profits have reached record levels as a share of GDP."  Here, after adjusted inflation "the wages of the typical American worker - the one at the very middle of the income distribution - have risen less than 1% since 2000."
It comes clear that overall statistics are smoothened by top earners whereas the middle class worker is losing out.  Moreover, income disparities are often passed on to the next generation.  According to a poll in Foreign Affairs, Americans look for the culprits outside of their country: almost 90% worry about their jobs going offshore. A main contributor to the uneven distribution of income growth has been the greater demand for skilled workers relative to their supply. But there are also measures that at least indicate a narrowing gap for low-wage employees: During the 1990s "real wages rose faster for the bottom quarter of workers than for those in the middle." The income of the top 1% continuously rising is what some scholars call "a polarisation of the labour market. The bottom is no longer falling behind, the top is soaring ahead and the middle is under pressure." But whatever the statistics, it seems that the trend of a strained middle class will not be reversing soon.
So who is to be blamed?  Is it China, India or globalisation?  Experts disagree.  Will further inequality cause any reaction by the American public?  According to the author this will depend on the speed of change, the health of the economy and a tolerance for ongoing inequality.
Analysis: The article refers some interesting phenomena:  Not only do statistics prove some staunch believers in the American Dream wrong; it also indicates that the US, who has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of free trade and globalisation, is turning towards greater protectionism as a result of global trends such as outsourcing to India and offshoring to China. The author's conclusions of how the American public might react to a challenge of the American dream are rather weak.  Basically, the question remains whether the speed of change can be met by changes implemented by policy makers or balanced with adaptations to a globalising world. The increasing societal rift, in part caused by the knowledge economy", enhanced by technological innovation, may be a causal effect similar to the one that occurred when the Industrial Revolution brought a shift from the agricultural societies.  Changes brought by the Industrial Revolution overturned not only traditional economies, but also whole societies.  So perhaps, this is only the beginning of such a paradigm shift towards a more complex system that demands more complex answers.
So what does this mean for the American Dream? To perpetuate the rags-to-riches story the US has to reclaim its strengths that has made her a superpower and the wealthiest nation (in absolute terms) in the first place: openness to immigration in general and specifically directed at attracting the "best and the brightest", playing by the rules of the international market, a level playing field and equal chances for everybody. Only such an environment provides the right climate for innovation in which new ideas can prosper and hence promote the ideal that at least those (few) can make it knowing how to take advantage of market conditions that encourage entrepreneurship and creativity.

Immigration and Naturalization Reform in the U.S. and Germany

Edit Copy has a round up of the press coverage of President Bush's Oval Office address on immigration on Monday.
Immigration policy reform has been a controversial issue lately, especially in the U.S. South. Some liberals seem to be concerned that the proposed guestworker program will not give immigrants a fair chance of citizenship, while some conservatives consider it tantamount to an amnesty for illegal immigration. Yet some business- oriented conservatives favor the guest worker program, while labor oriented liberals oppose immigration in general because they worry about depressed wages for low income Americans.
In recent weeks, several US newspapers have pointed to Germany's guestworker program as an example of failed integration and social problems. The Atlantic Review's earlier post already mentioned Fareed Zakaria's piece in the Washington Post. Colin Nickerson wrote a good article about the German guest worker program in the Boston Globe (via Dialog International). However, both Nickerson and Zakaria and others failed to acknowledge the changes in the German immigration policy and the modernization of the nationality law in 2000. German laws are now more similar to U.S. laws than before. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior:
As of 1 January 2000, a child born in Germany to non-German parents automatically acquires German citizenship at birth. The principle of citizenship by place of birth (jus soli) was introduced with the Act to Amend the Nationality Law of 15 July 1999 and is subject to the following conditions: that at least one parent had lived legally in Germany for at least eight years prior to the birth, and that at the time of the birth, that parent had a permanent residence permit. In this way, approximately 191,000 children of non-German parents had acquired German citizenship in addition to that of their parents by the end of 2004. (...) The modernization of nationality law has also made it much easier for foreigners to become naturalized German citizens: They are eligible for naturalization after having lived legally in Germany for eight years if they have a permanent residence permit, declare their allegiance to the free and democratic order, are able to support themselves and their family members, and have not been convicted of any criminal offences.

Germany loses the brightest minds to the US

In an interview with the leftwing/liberal German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, migration expert Klaus Bade paints an unpleasant migration-picture for Germany: While immigrants often times don't fulfill the requirements to fit in socially and professionally, more and more well educated, German-trained professionals turn their backs on the country, increasingly so not only for certain period of time, but for good, he says. Two of the reasons he mentions are the continuingly unpromising outlook for the German job market and "absurd practices within the German academia," which will soon drive so many experts abroad that we can expect a distinct shortage of trained professionals in certain sectors. Among the highly and very highly qualified experts Germany is loosing are IT-professionals, many of whom migrating to the United States. Canada is among other favored countries of immigration. Predominant among the emigrants are young, educated people "in their best years of earning," Bade laments. "Germany is on her way to find herself on the loser's side of the competition over the brightest minds." An additional problem he contends: While many second- or third generation immigrants to Germany are now leaving the country for better opportunities abroad, their parents and grandparents tend to stay in order to enjoy their retirement benefits in Germany." In times of retirement crisis, this is a problem that should not be underestimated", Bade warns. All in all, he contends, this is "a thoroughly unpleasant migration scenario, which should neither be talked nor calculated away."

Carnival of German American Relations

Sixty-Four years ago today, Germany declared war on the United States. To reflect on the evolution of US-German relations and the current state of our alliance, GM's Corner and the Atlantic Review are hosting a blog carnival. Many Germans have had a high regard for the US for its support for (West-)Germany, civil liberties and the rule of law, its thoughtful political debates and critical press, and the establishment of international organizations. Many German friends of the US have felt increasingly estranged in the last couple of years due to restrictions on civil liberties and the rule of law in the US, an uncritical media during the run up to the Iraq war, and the perception of increasing unilateralism and of a bellicose foreign policy rhetoric of some politicians. Others just seized the chance to express their anti-Americanism more openly.

Many Americans have the impression that Germans are ungrateful, unsupportive, hypocritical and don't understand how the world has changed on 9/11 and that the war on terror requires new methods and thinking. The disagreements, however, are not primarily between Americans and Germans, but between liberals and conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, and even within those political tents. Thus many liberal Americans and Germans argue that giving up moral values in the war on terrorism is surrender and does not defeat terrorists, but helps them to get more recruits.

The leading German weekly DIE ZEIT now calls the United States a "Torture State." The editor Michael Naumann even writes that legal executions could be considered torture. The Wall Street Journal hits back:

One of Europe's moral conceits is to fret constantly about the looming outbreak of fascism in America, even though it is on the Continent itself where the dictators seem to pop up every couple of decades. (...) More dangerous for the longer term, the Continent's preening anti-Americanism has also been duly noted on this side of the Atlantic. Europeans should worry that their moral hauteur may well be repaid by American popular opinion the next time they call on the Yanks to put down one of their homegrown fascists.

While these two venerable papers trade shrill insults and hurtful, exaggerated accusations, the 21 participants of our Blog Carnival have written critical, but much more respectful and thoughtful opinion pieces on a wide range of topics on our transatlantic partnership. Please continue to read here what they have to say:

Continue reading "Carnival of German American Relations"

The American Dream, blue-collar hearts and minds and Christian values

Fulbright Alumna Arlie Hochschild, a professor of sociology at The University of California, Berkeley, compares the (non-)reaction of the American public towards socially unjust budget policies with a chauffeur who is driving his wealthy boss around in a limousine, watches him get out of the car, steal a loaf of bread from a homeless mother and her two children, and get back into his luxury vehicle. The chauffeur feels real qualms about leaving behind an even poorer family and a baffled crowd of sidewalk witnesses, but drives on nonetheless.
You can read Prof. Hochschild's article in the liberal journal Mother Jones. If you want to read some quotes first that explain the dilemma, describe the role of the American Dream, the successful conservative stratgey to win blue-collar hearts and minds, and the change of Christian values, then continue to read here:

Continue reading "The American Dream, blue-collar hearts and minds and Christian values"