Tear Down that Wall, cries Merkel! Yes – but how?

During a panel discussion on 10 June 2017 with Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that

Obviously the main reason for people leaving must be addressed on site first, which means that putting up walls and cutting oneself off will not solve the problem.

Well, yes, but how?

The West handed the recipe for getting rich to the rest of the world centuries years ago, but countless leaders and billions of people find the necessary ingredients not at all to their taste.

Germany itself has failed to prevent people from remaining in the former Democratic Republic of Germany (DDR), which had already suffered a sharp population decline under Soviet occupation. People have continued leaving since reunification, especially youth in search of education and opportunity in richer West Germany.

The day after the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989, former German Chancellor Willy Brandt (allegedly) pronounced the famous slogan that the economic landscape would flourish and grow together (zusammenwachsen).

Although the former East Germany was reputed to have the most efficient economy in the Soviet empire, it was soon revealed it to be an empty shell, leading Helmut Schmidt, another former chancellor, to point out in 1992 that reality had overtaken Brandt’s hopes and forecasts.

But it was not for want of trying – or investment.

In 2011, the Former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück said that

Over a period of 20 years, German reunification has cost €2 trillion, or an average of €100 billion a year.

Most of this huge sum went into bringing East Germany’s infrastructure up to West German standards and improving wages to nearer those of the Federal Republic.

And yet, in 2017 the population of the old Democratic Republic continues to fall and unemployment is still higher than in West Germany.

So one might have thought that a German Chancellor from the former Soviet zone would have a better sense of the difficulties of, and the decades needed for economic development.

Merkel has played the moral card in Mexico City, but also has no real answers to Mexico’s huge problems.

Among other books, she needs to read

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoğlu and James A. Robinson, 2012 – the German version appeared in June 2014.

Chapter 1, coincidentally, is entitled


Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora [Mexico], have the same people, culture, and geography. Why is one rich and one poor?

When Merkel comes up with a way not just to understand, but to resolve the differences in history, institutions and cultures that produce such vast differences in health and wealth, then she will be worth listening to.

The problem is that although the recipe is well-known, master chefs, like the Japanese and, more recently the Taiwanese and South Koreans, are few and far between and usually spoil the dish.

Or, to use another metaphor, you can lead a horse to  water, but you can’t make it drink.

That applies to all of Latin America, all of Africa – and most of Asia and south and eastern Europe, without even taking into consideration the better climatic and geographical conditions enjoyed by the U.S. and Western Europe.

In the meantime, should the United States continue accepting illegal immigrants – and risk further loss of the country’s cohesion?

Merkel did not explicitly name Donald Trump during her comments, but it is astonishing how many people compare the Berlin and U.S.-Mexico walls when their purposes are completely different.

Again, Merkel should know better.

The Berlin Wall was built by a poor country and repressive regime to keep people in, the U.S. wall by a rich and free democracy to keep people out.

A recognition of that simple fact alone would raise the level of debate.

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