Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘germany

Further Galeria closures / Follow-up: German department stores (and COVID-19)

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Back in 2020, at an early stage of the COVID-lockdowns, I wrote a text on German department stores ([1]). In an excursion to a text from last month, I noted:

[…] I have likely not set foot in a department store in the almost three years since [1]—in part, due to the relatively low benefit; in part, due to the COVID-countermeasures, which saw a long stretch of forced downtime and made me lose any habit of department store visits. Further, that German Wikipedia points to severe and continued problems for the sole major player left (Galeria / Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof), including repeated Schutzschirmverfahren, which, in my understanding, are comparable to the U.S. “Chapter 11”.

Today, I learn that a new round of closures is part of the latest Schutzschirmverfahren, including the Galeria in my local Wuppertal, which might make the issue semi-academic. This could bring the total number of stores down from 129 to 77. (Cf., in German, [2] and [3].)

Contrast this 77 with the “170-or-so” mentioned in [1]—and even this number was likely very considerably smaller than when I moved to Germany in 1997. (But note that the current Galeria resulted from the merger of two previous chains, which makes numbers hard to compare.) On the upside, as early as in [1] there was a potential threat of 80 closures, and the actual number of closures in the almost three years since has been lower, which points to some possibility that stores are saved over time.


Written by michaeleriksson

March 16, 2023 at 2:07 pm

The Leftist Germany

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To demonstrate the horrifying influence of Leftist ideologies in Germany:

I briefly skimmed through the news on ARD text (a site without archiving of old contents) and stumbled from the nominally* Conservative CDU wanting to form yet another coalition government with its nominal* arch-enemy SPD (Social-Democrats; this time in Berlin), to the SPD run federal government wanting to enforce a Feminist (!) foreign policy, to price-controls taking effect on various forms of energy (and retroactively, at that).

*In U.S. terms, CDU is a party dominated by RINOs and “Cuckservatives”. Merkel, especially, was a disaster for German non-Leftism, in general, and Conservatism, in particular.

To this, I note that a sane Germany, governed by facts and reason, would see SPD in a niche existence and as an entirely unacceptable partner in any government, be it federal or state based; that Feminism has done everything that it can to discredit it self, and still, weirdly, is taken seriously and propagated by idiot politicians; and that the current energy situation is exactly when market forces would have been beneficial to increase the availability of energy and to ensure that energy goes where it is the most needed. (That the energy crisis is mostly created by the politicians, to begin with, does not make matters better.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 1, 2023 at 9:03 pm

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Inflation again / Meals for frying

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For another inflation follow-up:

A little more than two weeks ago, I revisited some inflation items from last September ([1]), and noted that the “[m]eals for frying” that I (originally, often; increasingly, rarely) buy had not changed in price in the interim—unlike most others items.

Today, I bought another one, looked at my receipt, and found a horrible 2.99 Euro!

Compared to [1], this is another 11–15 (!) percent* in five (!) months, after the price had already risen by 40 percent or more during the COVID-countermeasure era. Going back to the original price (“1.80-something”), we now have an increase of some 60 percent…** From another perspective, if the same rate of increase continues, the price come next September might close in on twice the original.***

*2.99 vs. “2.60-something”: 2.99/2.60 = 1.15 and 2.99/2.69 > 1.11.

**2.99/1.80 > 1.66; 2.99/1.89 > 1.58.

***Good predictions are impossible, because (a) trends can change, (b) prices, as above, often increase in jerks rather than smaller gradual increases. (In particular, cf. an excursion in [1], there is some chance that breaking the 3-Euro barrier would be too painful for the store.) However, if we assume a reasonably smooth increase, a rate of 13 percent for the previous five months, and add another seven months, then the 2.99 Euro would be scaled by a factor of (1.13)^(7/5), which amounts to approximately 3.55 Euro, while the original price, again, was “1.80-something”.

Fucking politicians!

Written by michaeleriksson

February 22, 2023 at 10:43 am

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Follow-ups on inflation

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To revisit a few texts on or relating to inflation:

In [1], I note that inflation seemed to hit harder than it officially should, giving some specific examples. To briefly look at these examples again, what has changed price-wise in the four-and-half months since then, and how my own habits have been altered:

  1. Milk: Has gone from 99 Cents to 1.05 Euro for the cheapest brands that I have noticed—and that is for “light” milk, with “regular” milk coming in another 5 (?) Cents higher.* This makes for another 6-or-so percent** for the “light” version, maybe 11 or more for “regular”. (The price, to my recollection, used to be the same.)

    *I grew up on the “light” versions as a child and still prefer them, so this is no issue for me, but it might be for others.

    **Here and elsewhere, note that this is not an annualized number. For instance, with the same trend, a yearly increase based on 6 percent might be approximated through 1.06^(12/4.5) – 1 or, equivalently, almost 17 percent. Whether the trend will remain the same, I leave unstated.

    (Also note a later text on the “small savings count” fallacy fallacy for why this price difference might not be as trivial as it seems. Also note that milk is a very common ingredient in other products and that an increase in the price of milk can result in price increases in these too, even be it smaller ones.)

  2. Meals for frying: Those that I buy seem to be at approximately the same price as before, but some others, for sale next to them, are more expensive. Understandably, I have not paid that much attention to the prices of the latter, but I suspect that the price difference has increased, making the neighboring products even more vulnerable to inflation.

    (Also note that similar meals from Akzenta/Rewe, instead of Aldi, might be another twenty or thirty percent more expensive; however, here I have no baseline to compare with.)

  3. Sausages: The same type that sold at 2.39 is now typically at 2.49 or more, for roughly 4 or more percent. For a while, I switched to a different type, which was more expensive but contained a greater quantity, but I ultimately lost interest. Excepting a purchase for Christmas, I have not eaten sausages since, maybe, October. This is largely because I tend to move in cycles of eating something fairly often, growing tired of it, not eating it at all, at some point re-discovering it, etc.; however, the price increases do not help.
  4. Coffee: Here, there actually seems to have been an improvement, with rebated prices back below 5 Euro and regular prices at, maybe, 6.x. As I noted in [1], “[C]offee often underlies price fluctuations based on e.g. how successful harvests have been. The overall change might reflect more than just inflation.”, and I suspect that an improvement in such other factors might have taken place. The overall price, however, is still considerably above the original. (Also note some remarks on Dolce Gusto, below.)
  5. Muesli: In the wake of the deterioration, I decided to make a private experiment by simply buying my own rolled oats (reservations for terminology), nuts, and whatnots, and mixing them to preference. I never got farther than the rolled oats, which actually work quite well together with just milk, are quite cheap relative both nuts and ready-made muesli, and (as a single item) are more convenient than buying and mixing several components. I might revisit this in the future, to vary the diet a bit, especially once summer comes. (I tend to consume relatively more colder foods and more fluids in the summer, e.g. muesli with milk, and relatively more warmer foods and solids in the winter. Just rolled oats might turn out to be boring, once my frequency of eating increases again.)
  6. (Rote Grütze: I have not bought it once since the change, partly because of the reduced convenience of the smaller container, partly due to the aforementioned cycles, partly due to the aforementioned summer and winter habits for food. Correspondingly, I have not kept tabs on prices.)

In [2] and [3], I discuss how my regular toilet paper and chewing gum had seemingly been taken off the market. Both now seem to be back (knock on wood). Why, I do not know, with options ranging from an inflow of costumer complaints to a temporary shortage (e.g. with resources prioritized for more expensive brands) eventually ending.

However, it is also possible that this is an example of inadvertently leaving a niche open for competitors: If store-chain A scraps a certain product to favor more expensive products in the same category, while store-chain B keeps the equivalently positioned product, many customers might prefer to switch to store-chain B for that type of product, rather than picking the next best alternative from store-chain A. This could then foul the plans of store-chain A and force a re-introduction.

Worse, some new competitor could move into a newly created niche or otherwise increase the competitive pressure. This might be what is happening with Dolce Gusto, where I have repeatedly seen newer and cheaper versions of these capsules, e.g. when I went to Aldi last Friday. As I noted in [1], the price increase on the “brand versions” had been smaller than for coffee in general, but it was still large. Now imagine a prospective competitor, who is able to sell a cheaper product, be it by cutting profit margins or by lowering quality,* but only can undercut the “brands” by, say, ten percent. Not only is this a potentially poor incentive for him, as he has little room to find a satisfactory profit-maximizing price, but the customers have little incentive to switch from the “brands”,** and it might be that there is no viable niche for him. Now say that the competitors raise their prices by another twenty percent. Suddenly, he has thrice the price span to play with and a much greater chance of finding a viable niche. (But note that this calculation is just intended as an illustration of principle. I claim neither that these are the actual values at hand, nor that a calculation focused on a single factor would be enough in real life.)

*I have tried a few of these competitors and they have been lower in quality. Moreover, the choices available have been far fewer. There might or might not also be an issue with lack of cooperation from Dolce Gusto (or its equivalent in whatever field is at hand) in developing and manufacturing the capsules (or whatnots) in a sufficiently compatible form.

**If in doubt, note that Dolce-Gusto customers are likely to be less price-sensitive than the average coffee drinker.

***If we index the original “brand” price at 100, he originally had a span of 90 to 100. Afterwards, he stands at 90 to 120, which is three times the span.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 5, 2023 at 6:53 am

A few observations around the alleged German coup attempt

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Until now, I have left the alleged coup attempt in Germany without comment—and, barring future revelations of note, I will likely continue to do so after this text. There simply is too much vagueness, too much speculation, too much governmental PR, and too much one-sidedness in the reporting, for me, as an outsider, to make a qualified statement about the details without very considerable prior research.*

*A particular complication is that the intentions, opinions, political positions, group belongings, whatnot of those unpopular-with-the-Left are regularly and often grossly misrepresented by media and Leftist politicians in Germany (just as in e.g. the U.S.). A consequence is that, for instance, the common claim that participants were “Reichsbürger” does not imply that they actually were, nor is it clear what the implications of “Reichsbürger” would be—as all descriptions of “Reichsbürger” that I have ever encountered have been written by their enemies. Even clarifying just these two points might cost me more or much more time than the entire writing of this text.

A few observations are called for on a more general level, however:

  1. The extreme differences in numbers and resources between alleged participants and the involved law enforcement, the informing of journalists before the arrests/raids/whatnot, etc. give the impression that this was more of a PR-coup for the German government and/or the German Left than a real coup against the German government.

    Note, in a similar vein, the J6 situation in the U.S., where a comparatively minor event has been blown out of proportion, where punishments are far larger than any wrong-doings,* where the portrayal of behavior and intents is extremely misleading, where there are strong signs of an (at least partial) setup, etc.—allowing a Leftist PR-coup intended to trick the people into believing that the Right** is evil/dangerous/whatnot, while the truth, by any reasonable standard, is the opposite.

    *Up to and including Monopoly-style “Go directly to jail!” commands to some who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof of ill intentions, as if they had stepped on the wrong Monopoly square and happened to draw a bad card.

    **I consider the Left–Right scale inherently flawed, as the various parties/ideologies/whatnot usually classified as Rightwing are far too heterogeneous to be grouped together (especially, if the Leftist misdefinitions of “Racist equals Rightwing”, “Nationalist equals Rightwing”, etc. are accepted—which I do not). I note, in particular, that the far Left is an extremer version of the regular Left, while the same does not apply to the “far Right” and the “Right”. My use of the Left–Right scale in this text is solely to match the framing of the debate. I further note that some of my statements about the Right must be seen with implicit disclaimers like e.g. “the clear majority of the Right, but due to the extreme wideness of the term, exceptions exist”. More on these topics can be found in e.g. my lengthy and ongoing series on Nazis ([1] and countless later installments, notably [2]). Also note the issue of the Left constantly demanding tolkningsföreträde, including on issues like who is or is not a supporter of what ideology and how any given ideology is to be classified.

  2. There is a strong push that this was explicitly a “Rightwing” (“far Right”, or similar) coup attempt.

    This is problematic in terms of classification, as the involved (in my superficial impression) seem more loony than political, and as the main two reasons for the classification seem to be (a) a wish for a king, (b) an origin among dissenters.

    However, to dissent is neither wrong nor inherently Rightwing,* and much of the dissent in question, notably against the failed, scientifically unfounded, and rights-violating COVID policies should have been politically neutral and is outright laudable. Moreover, as I have noted in the past,** if dissenters are driven out of “polite company”, they will naturally end up with each other, even when they have little in common; moreover, there is the issue of the fellow-traveler fallacy. In other words, making assumptions based on the participation of members of a certain “scene”*** is dubious.

    *It is true both that a Leftwing mentality tends to be more conforming/gullible and that the strong and absurd influence of the Left in today’s world makes Leftist dissent less likely, but dissent, per se, is not proof of anything Rightwing. (To the degree that dissent is Rightwing, it is usually either a matter of regular differences in opinion or directed at something negative, untruthful, oppressive, whatnot—and should be supported.)

    **Unfortunately, I failed to find a reference on short notice—a disadvantage of having published this many texts.

    ***As the German journalists, with their cliched “Szene”, like to formulate it—it is always Szene-this and Szene-that.

    Even the king-part is not Rightwing as such (in an even remotely modern sense): looking beneath the word used, there is very little difference between e.g. a traditional* king and someone like Stalin or Fidel Castro. More interesting questions involve who is in favor of democracy, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, the rights of the individual, etc., and here the Right tends to be more positive than the Left, which typically only uses democracy as a tool to gain power. Vice versa, who is in favor of a “strong leader”/“strong man”, extensive government control, whatnot, where the Left tends to be more positive than the Right.

    *To boot, if we look at most modern monarchies, e.g. the U.K. and Sweden, the role of the monarch is largely ceremonial and differs little in nature from that of e.g. the (ceremonial) German president. For a deeper discussion, we would need a very clear definition and understanding of what was actually intended. (Also note complications like historical kings often having been elected and presidents often grabbing power through military force; kingship sometimes being hereditary, sometimes not; presidentship sometimes being quasi-hereditary, sometimes not. Apart, possibly, from a shibbolethic aspect of the word “king”, there is nothing Rightwing about the idea.)

    Of course, even if we were to consider the coup-makers Rightwing, which might or might not be the case after a closer inspection, they would only represent a very small fraction of the Right—while e.g. terrorists from Antifa and the “autonomous”* movements represent a significantly larger portion of the Left. Recent sport from some Leftist groups seems to include the willful and nonsensical destruction of art “because global warming”.

    *These Leftwing groups have a long history of violence and anti-democratic attempts to enforce their will upon others in Germany. Other countries have other Leftist groups that are violent and otherwise problematic, e.g. the BLM movement in the U.S. and, more historically, various anarchist groupings. (Antifa seems to be a worldwide problem.)

    Notably, the German Left has long waged an all out of war of hate and distortion on anything branded or self-branded as “Right”, leading to e.g. CDU* cowardly hiding under the label of “Center”, instead of sticking to “Right”, which brings about a self-fulfilling not-quite-prophecy, as only those with extreme positions typically dare to refer to themselves as “Right”. There might also be no other country in the world where the distortion of “Right” to imply “Nazi”, “Fascist”, “Xenophobic”, whatnot (and vice versa) has gone further—an absurdity as these positions are largely irrelevant to the Left–Right scale and as the Nazis, by any reasonable standard, were Leftwing. (Cf. [1], [2], and follow ups.) As an example, cf. [3], Germany went through the trouble of instituting a law against explicitly Rightwing extremism—while Germany is buckling under Leftwing (!) extremism.**

    *Nominally, Conservative; at least since Merkel took over, “German RINO”.

    **The failure of so many to understand this, and with the same situation in e.g. the U.S., is a sign of how far the respective Overton windows and opinion corridors have been shifted. What is or is not extremist, normal, deviant, whatnot has often been turned on its head both in politics and in much of public perception.

    Also note an earlier text on the odd distortion of the Left–Right spectrum.

  3. As I have noted repeatedly in the past, Germany is neither a functioning democracy nor a Rechtsstaat, currently having more in common with the 1980s’ GDR/DDR than the 1980s’ FRG/BRD.

    A coup under such circumstance is not a threat against, e.g., democracy, as democracy already has been reduced to a nominal existence. A time might well come where a coup is the only way to restore democracy within a reasonable time frame—as it would have been in Nazi-Germany and might* be in today’s Brazil.

    *My impressions are too superficial to make a definite statement, but there are strong signs that Lula (a) did take power through a mixture of judicial abuse and election cheating, and (b) is now abusing that power to remain in power. Indisputably, he is very far Left; with a very high degree of likelihood, he is criminally corrupt.

    This is not yet the case in today’s Germany, but the margins are thinning and a continuation of current trends could force that situation within the foreseeable future. (Consider e.g. that there is some risk that AfD, one of the largest German parties, might be banned for being-hated-by-the-Left, while the much more unsavory Die Linke, the rebranded SED, is growing ever more successful and the Social-Democrats, with their outdated and destructive ideas, currently have the run of the country.)

    Here I re-raise my warning that inexcusable acts by the Left can lead to violent resistance, and this resistance then be used to excuse further inexcusable acts by the Left (cf. [4]; also note other similarly themed texts, like [5]).

  4. A repeated problem with actions like these, including several situations in the U.S., is that law enforcement does not clamp down at a time when good faith would demand it, namely, as soon as possible. In some cases, notably the Gretchen-Whitmer “kidnapping” plot, law enforcement is/was even the pushing force. The idea seems to be to wait as long as possible, to get as many fishes in the net as possible, to get as much publicity as possible, whatnot, before clamping down—this with no regard to any danger created and with no regard for the many fishes who might have remained entirely innocent with an earlier intervention. (To which must be added that the border for being “guilty” is often very lax, as with J6, and that the “guilt” is often caused by entrapment, as, again, with the Gretchen-Whitmer “kidnapping” plot and, according to many accounts, J6.)
  5. A side-issue is that political violence tends to be Leftist, while German propaganda tries very hard to paint it as Rightist, to the point that use of violence is sometimes used as an ipso-fact proof of “Right”. (E.g. in that soccer hooligans are considered Rightwing for using violence, not for their political opinions—or, on the outside, for opinions that have nothing to do with Left and Right, notably regarding racism. E.g. in that any and all violence against immigrants by Germans is condemned as having a racist and, therefore, far Right motivation, even when the truth was e.g. a wish for money, a personal feud, or a drunk fight.) Ditto e.g., in a historical paradox, anti-establishment attitudes. Ditto resistance to government control of the individual.*

    *This with greater justification, but with a Leftist propaganda focus not on “wants respect for the rights of the individual” but on “dares defy the all-knowing and all-loving government”.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 16, 2022 at 7:51 pm

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Ethics, choice, and vaccines

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Apparently, a German nurse has been convicted of injecting, without their knowledge, patients* with saline instead of a COVID-vaccine (cf. e.g. [1]).

*I follow [1] in the use of this word, but note that it might give the wrong overall impression. Something like “vaccinee” might be closer to the mark.

This is another case of overruled choice, if one in an unusual direction, as the COVID-vaccine pushers have been among the greatest sinners—this up to and including cases of someone unknowingly being given a COVID-vaccine, e.g. by a nurse substituting it for a requested flu shoot.*

*These cases might fall in the category of “honest mistakes”, unlike the activities of this nurse, but there are a great many indisputably deliberate examples of implemented or merely attempted overruled/denied/sabotaged/whatnot choice, e.g. vaccine mandates for U.S. military personal and the attempted nationwide mandate in Germany. Also note several recent reports of denied access to medical treatment for those not vaccinated—even when already having the superior protection of prior infection and even in light of what we know today that was not known in the early days of the vaccines.

However, there are quite a few other ethical issues to ponder:

  1. If this saline replacement had been performed with the consent* of the patients, she would have been in the clear ethically,** but she might still have been punished.

    *Leaving aside practical details around the plausibility of such a scheme. Just giving the option to every non-voluntary patient might have led to her being caught on the first day; a scheme of outsiders giving tips, to those who wanted to avoid the vaccine, that a certain nurse would be able to help, leaves the question of how to actually get the right nurse; etc. (For voluntary patients, the scheme would have been pointless.)

    **Indeed, she would have helped them avoid an unethical removal of choice.

    However, from another point of view, there might be situations where some type of mandatory and/or forced intervention is warranted and ethically justifiable, and who is to draw the line between the one and the other? COVID is clearly not it, but what if something appeared that did similar damage to the population as the Black Death?

  2. Looking at the reverse situation, might there be cases where failure to subvert some action (here the act of vaccinating someone; but the issue is not restricted to medicine, let alone COVID) is unethical? With COVID, e.g., we now know that much of the Official Truth was not just contrary to later scientific knowledge but even the scientific knowledge of the time—would it be ethical for someone who knows better to not act in the best* interest of the patient? Similarly, would it be ethical for someone who knows better to not speak out, for fear of repercussions?

    *Note that I do not claim that this would automatically imply e.g. “do not vaccinate”. Whether a COVID-vaccination makes sense will depend on the individual at hand, and a blanket approach of “do not vaccinate” is just as flawed as the reverse “do vaccinate”. For instance, covertly using saline instead of a COVID-vaccine might have been good for an even remotely average boy of fifteen, while being highly irresponsible were his great-grandmother concerned.

    Then, again, when does someone know with sufficient certainty to act? There are many in the medical community who have been, maybe still are, true believers in COVID-propaganda, many who believe religiously in homeopathic quackery, many who believe in other quackery—and the mere fact that someone is convinced that X does not necessarily imply X.* Similarly, experts can be found in virtually any field who have very unorthodox ideas (mostly, incorrect ones, but sometimes they are right and the orthodoxy wrong).

    *Note that I discuss persons of alleged expertise here. That laymen have entirely incorrect ideas is very, very common, as can be seen e.g. by the spread within the population of Leftist beliefs that do not stand up to five minutes of critical thinking or a basic (genuine!) fact check. (For instance, much of the worldview of Feminists and CRT-ists.)

    (The true solution in medicine, and likely many other fields/situations, is a true and informed consent, in that e.g. a patient is given all the facts and then makes a decision for himself—as opposed to the government, his employer, or a nurse making the decision and as opposed to the patient making the decision based on deliberately distorted or too incomplete data.)

  3. What about all those who have deliberately or out of ignorance done far more harm, and typically harm that was foreseeable, yet have not even been put on trial? Why should this nurse be in trouble, when the likes of Fauci, Ferguson, Birx, or e.g. Biden, Merkel, Ardern walk free?

Excursion on agenda pushing:
How hard the real misinformation on COVID and COVID-vaccines is still pushed is clear from claims in [1] like:

[her actions] leaving [the patients] with no protection against the deadly virus.

Fundamentally untrue, as the virus has proven to not be particularly deadly, as they would still have the protection from their immune systems and deliberate own countermeasures*, and as the formulation implies that they would have had protection, had they been vaccinated, while data shows that this protection is at best spotty and requiring repeated boosters. Certainly, those who already have had COVID (but are unvaccinated) have less to fear than those who are vaccinated (but have not had COVID—maybe even those who had COVID after the vaccination).

*While, in all fairness, those suggested so far appear to be mostly pointless.

Following the incident, state authorities urged the fraud victims to register for revaccination and emphasised that it is completely safe.

If so, state authorities are either horrifyingly ignorant or ruthless liars and far more culpable than the nurse, as there is a small but very clear known* danger associated with the vaccines. (Whether the non-vaccinations constitute fraud or something else might also be debatable, but is not necessarily a sign of agenda pushing.)

*As well as speculation and claims of greater dangers, which might, in due time, prove to be true or just over-interpretation.

Further doubt on the quality of reporting is cast by the titular claim that the nurse “walks free”, which is a half truth—a sentence on probation is not the same thing as freedom and the ultimate consequences will still depend on her future behavior. The repeated use of “anti-vaxxer” might or might not be acceptable depending on her overall opinions, which I have not investigated—but I do note that equating scepticism towards specifically the COVID-vaccines with being an “anti-vaxxer” is intellectually dishonest and highly misleading, as the COVID-vaccines have been shown to be both more problematic and less effective than other vaccines. Prior to that, the COVID-vaccines suffered from a great lack of knowledge, too little testing, and whatnot relative other vaccines. In other words, advocating caution and scepticism was the right, sound, and scientific position back then, while advocating an outright rejection (for those not in a risk group!) is the right, sound, and scientific position today.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 13, 2022 at 6:08 pm

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Abuse of devices / Follow-up: Attacks on freedom

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And 1984 is ever closer upon us: I have just received several messages on my smartphone of a “Presidential alert”*, with no opt-in and no control of my own. These claim to just be tests (“PROBEWARNUNG”), but still form an inexcusable intrusion and an invasion of my devices, as well as a waste of my time. (Note the contents of a text on attacks on freedom published a little earlier today.) Also note the very major difference between sending such messages to everyone and to just those who have explicitly opted in.)

*A weirdness both in terms of language used and German society. However, I am uncertain whether this portion stems from the sender of the message or from some network or smartphone functionality.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 8, 2022 at 11:12 am

Some thoughts around Germany’s World-Cup Fiasco

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  1. Germany just blew the group-phase (again)—and I am happy. The Germans deserved to go under for their distasteful abuse of the tournament for political grandstanding.

    Firstly, politics and sports should be kept apart.

    Secondly, the type of political message that was propagated by the Germans pretends to be one of love and tolerance, while truly being one of hate and intolerance. For instance, the “onelove” bracelets, around which much controversy has focused, pretend to say (some variation of) “we must all be tolerant and love our fellow humans—even if they are X”, but the true message, for all purposes, is “the world is filled with evil people that we have a duty to hate because they do not feel the same way as we do”.

    This is the worse, as the image painted is largely a misleading one. It might or might not hold for Qatar,* but the simple fact is that the same message is used even in countries in which it does not hold, and is paralleled by a variety of similarly misleading messages, e.g. the bending of knees against alleged “systemic racism”, where a straw-man is built and then attacked with a message pretending to be of love and tolerance, while truly, again, being of hate and intolerance. Notably, even those who are of a different opinion tend to be much more moderate than claimed, e.g. in that someone disapproves of “gay marriage” (nothing more; nothing less) and is accused of actually “hating gays” or “wanting to oppress gays”. Indeed, we usually have situations where a clear majority shares the approximate same opinions, and the main division goes between those who are vocal and aggressive about those opinions and those who are not. Of course, in these situations, not being vocal and aggressive can turn into a sin of its own…

    *And even if it does, should e.g. LGBT-etc.-etc. be a priority in light of all the other problems around Qatar? Hardly.

  2. How far the mighty have fallen:

    2014 saw the German team become champions, reaching the highest ELO number in history,* and destroying the Brazilian team in the semi-finals—Germany was back at the top, where it “belonged”,** and I had a first World-Cup victory,*** even be it by migration.

    *At the time. The ELO rating is continually updated in various ways, including that past numbers are revised. (Moreover, ELO numbers from different eras are not necessarily comparable.)

    **When I went through the height of my sports interest, Germany was a virtually consistent top contender, including a 1990 World-Cup victory. Germany and soccer went hand in hand.

    ***My native Sweden came reasonably close in 1994, taking third and only losing narrowly against eventual winner Brazil, which left me simultaneously happy and hungry for a “more” that took those twenty years to manifest.

    2018 saw a German fiasco, but partially to Swedish benefit, with Sweden reaching a decent quarter-final, while Germany, as defending champions, was last in the joint group. (Cf. at least [1] and [2].)

    2022? Germany just saw another fiasco through failing to reach the knock-out phase. For a while, it even looked like a new last place in the group, which was averted only by a strong finish in the last game. (Sweden appears to have missed even the qualification.)

  3. Germany’s group saw some odd results, notably that Spain beat Costa Rica 7–0, while Japan lost to Costa Rica 1–0, and Japan beat Spain 2–1. (Japan vs. Costa Rica forms an interesting parallel to Sweden vs. Germany last time around—the group winner lost against the last placer in the group.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 1, 2022 at 10:37 pm

How should the Meister be classified? / Follow-up: German make-work, barriers of entry, the Azubi system, etc.

with 2 comments

In a text on German make-work and whatnot ([1]), I said, concerning the comparison between master’s degrees and the “Meister” (master craftsman) qualification that:*

*See that text for German terminology not explained here, e.g. “Meister’ and “IHK”.

the [master’s] degree is at level 7 on the German version of the European Qualifications Framework, while the Meister is at level 6—and I have seen the claim that this is only due to IHK lobbying, with 5 being a rating more compatible with the rating of similar international qualifications. From a casual look, I consider the claim very plausible.

Since then, I have looked more closely at German Wikipedia [2] and the German version of the Qualifications Framework, and would support a classification on level 5. Below, I will go into details by comparing (mostly) bachelor* degrees and Meisters (both nominally at level 6).

*Restricted to the proper university bachelor. Cf. the complication of “Fachhochschulen” and “Berufsakademien” mentioned in [1]. (Including them would not change the big picture, however.)

Before I begin, two general complications/reservations that must be borne in mind:

Firstly, the used 1–8 integer scale is often on the crude side and suffers from a “rounding problem” or a “truncating problem”, in that, by analogy, two values that would only be one or two tenths apart on a more fine-grained scale might turn out to be a full integer step apart on the actual scale. For instance, when truncating* numbers to integers, 5.9 turns to 5, while 6.0 remain 6. Vice versa, two numbers that are almost one apart on a fine-grained scale might be identical on the coarser scale (6.0 and 6.9 both truncate to 6). If we assume that a Meister has a fine-grained value of 6.0 and a bachelor a value of 6.9, this might be tolerable; however, having them both at 6 is not. The sole defense of the Meister classification, assuming 6.0 vs. 6.9, would be that it is less a matter of a faulty classification by the Germans and more of a too coarse and misleading scale set by the Europeans.

*The same effect is seen with rounding, just with a different set of numbers, e.g. in that 5.4 turns to 5 and 5.5/6.4 to 6. (The truncation version merely seems more pedagogical in context.)

Secondly, the scale does explicitly not compare academic levels (unless two entries are both of an academic nature). Instead, it tries to find what entries are equal to each other in some more abstract sense, without implying a fungibility—equal but not the same. This approach is of debatable value, but is not obviously wrong. By analogy, a J.D. and an M.D are, in some sense, worth approximately the same, while still being too different to be fungible in many contexts. My take so far: it is a nice idea, but it brings too little value and the lack of fungibility is a problem for most practical comparisons.* I still disagree with the classification of the Meister, but this complication increases subjectivity and arbitrariness in a manner that makes a strict analysis harder and odd positions easier to defend (without these positions necessarily being sensible).

*A more promising idea is the international comparability, the original point of the EQF, in that we do not compare a craftsman with an academic, but, say, an Italian and a German craftsman or an Italian and a German academic. The same general scale and intra-field classifications could have been kept, but divided into separate scales for craftsmen, academics, and what else might apply. (Also see excursion.) This would have the added benefit of keeping fewer entries on each numerical level, which reduces the danger of a scale being too coarse and/or the damage when it is.

To proceed:

  1. Assume, dubiously, that the typical entry requirements to beginning a Meister (Azubi done) and a bachelor (Abitur done) are equally valuable, hard-earned, whatnot.

    A German bachelor is usually earned in three* years, but can be as long as four* in some cases.

    *Nominally. Many students need more time, either because they cannot keep up or because they have to work part-time in parallel.

    A Meister?

    Strictly speaking, in my impression, no additional education is needed to take the corresponding test (Meisterprüfung),* but for those who go to a Meisterschule (“master school”), which is normally considered sufficient preparation, German Wikipedia claims:

    *How many/few would be able to pass without prep work or with less prep work than provided by a Meisterschule, I leave unstated. The statement concerns formal pre-test requirements—nothing more, nothing less.

    Je nach Berufsbild dauern die Vorbereitungskurse im Vollzeitunterricht zwischen 3 und 24 Monaten; in Teilzeit bis zu 48 Monaten.

    Depending on the characteristics of the occupation, the preparatory courses last between 3 and 24 months of full-time study; part-time, up to 48 months.

    Assuming full time study, we then compare between 3 (!) and 24 months with 3 years or longer. To this must be added that the intellectual requirements for a bachelor are higher (with reservations for field of study). Clearly, the Meister is well short of the bachelor.

    But what about the practical work experience of a Meister? Does that not count and would not a comparison of 48 months with 3 years be fairer? No: this line of reasoning might be valid up to the point of earning the qualification, say, comparing a freshly minted Meister and a ditto bachelor. However, down the line, this would give the Meister an unfair advantage, as he can count some of his work experience while the bachelor cannot—even decades down the line. I also note that there used to be a minimum work experience of (maybe) 3 years in the field at hand to be accepted to the Meisterprüfung, but that this requirement is long gone. In theory, it should be possible to get to the Meister level with no more work experience than gathered as an Azubi.

  2. The entry requirements, however, are not equal, unless we apply the same type of faulty classification to them, too.

    The typical pre-qualification for a Meister is a successfully completed Azubi program (also see [1]), which is typically three years of a mixture of practical work and easy-by-Abitur-standards classes, for a nominal rating of level 4—or, in some cases, just two years for a rating of level 3. To enter an Azubi program, the formal qualification needed is (likely) the Hauptschule, on the outside the Realschule.**

    *Hauptschule and Realschule are the lowest resp. middle branch of the German school system. There are too many unclear descriptions and descriptions that leave out vital information, but beginning an Azubi program after year 9 or 10 of school seems normal.

    For a bachelor, it is the Abitur, usually as a result of going through the Gymnasium (highest) branch of the German school system, where children, beginning at year 5 or 7* and continuing to year 13, are given an academically oriented schooling for the purpose of future university studies. This branch is considered considerably harder than the other branches.

    *Here and elsewhere there are complications like different states/Bundesländer having slightly different rules.

    The Abitur is also nominally at level 4, but it appears that it came close to being put at level 5. (Quoting [2]: “das Problem, ob das deutsche Abitur die Niveaustufe 4 (Vorschlag der Sozialpartner und Kammerorganisationen) oder 5 (KMK-Vorschlag) erhalten soll, [wurde] auf einen späteren Zeitpunkt vertagt; dieses wurde im Frühjahr 2017 der Niveaustufe 4 zugeordnet”. Roughly, the likes of the IHKs wanted it on level 4, the ministers of education wanted it on level 5, and the IHKs won. Note an overriding pattern of misclassification through the influence of the IHKs, as well as the mega-guild issue in [1].) My current impression is that 5 would have been better, and this would have reflected my earlier observation that the Abitur is closer to a U.S. associate’s degree than to a U.S. high-school degree. At a minimum, we have the type of unfortunate truncation comparison discussed above, in that the Abitur might have been a 4.9 truncated to 4; or even a 5.0 misclassified as a 4.9 and then truncated to 4. This while the 3-year Azubi might well be a plain 4.0.

    (Also note how we, in a slightly different world, could have had Meister and Abitur both at level 5, but actually do have Meister at level 6 and Abitur at level 4—something very much to the advantage of the IHKs and their members.)

  3. Looking at the 3-year Azubi, we have the “pro-Meister” position that a Meister began with a weak level-4
    qualification, spent between 3 and 24 months on study, and is now on level 6, while the bachelor began with a strong level-4 qualification, spent 3 or more years of more advanced study, and is now also at level 6. Already here, it looks ridiculous.

    A “pro-Bachelor” scenario juxtaposes level 4 + 3–24 months of study with level 5 + 3 or more years of more advanced study. The comparison is now utterly absurd.

    Then there is the issue of the 2-year Azubi, which presumably* also has a Meister-continuation, where someone moves from level 3 (!) to level 6 by earning the Meister…

    *I have not looked into this, but the opposite would be highly surprising.

  4. Another approach is to look at who is qualified to study at the university level. Someone with the Abitur is, without restrictions (“allgemeine Hochschulreife”). A successful Azubi is not (yet, they are both at level 4), while a Meister (at level 6) at least* partially is.**

    *I have seen somewhat conflicting information as to whether he gains the general right or merely one in sufficiently near-by fields (“fachgebundene Hochschulreife”). Maybe, the rules simply differ from state to state; they have definitely changed over time.

    **And while a bachelor, also at level 6, already has studied successfully at the university level.

    In this specific regard, the Meister is more closely comparable to the Abitur than to a bachelor. (But note that a Meister has rights relating to his craft that the Abitur graduate does not.)

  5. Yet another approach is to look at age. Someone following the main road to a bachelor, while studying full time and sticking to the by-the-book schedule, with no interruptions, might be done at 22 (after Abitur at 19), while a sufficiently ambitious Meister-wanna-be with a similar brain,* could push it to 20, maybe even lower.**/***

    *But note that most with ambitions and brains tend to go to university and/or otherwise go to more challenging, intellectual, or profitable occupations. The proportion that lands with a Meister is far smaller.

    **Note that I do not say that he should, as gaining more work experience before the Meister might be a good idea, as working as a Meister while barely shaving could lead to credibility problems, and as going for part-time studies might be a better money decision. The point is that looking at the time/effort needed for completion, even quality aside, the Meister might be closer to Abitur (level 4) than to bachelor (level 6).

    ***I had a brief look for youngest Meister on the Internet and found one 19-old Meister; however, this appears to have been pre-1983 and the ruleset might have been different.

In conclusion, it seems fair to put the Meister at level 5, not level 6, and a case might be possible that the Abitur belongs on level 5, not level 4. This even generally—if we look at the issue from an intellectual/academic point of view, it might well be that the Meister would rightly be rated below the Abitur and, certainly, far below the bachelor.

Excursion on the next IHK step:
As I have noted, IHK has (at least) one step beyond the Meister, which counts as level 7 and as nominally equal to a master’s degree. Here I have less information, but the situation seems to be similar, in that there are few formal requirements for taking the test,* and that the study time is much shorter than for the degrees on the same level. For instance, one info page gives “12-monatigen Sonntagsstudiengangs oder eines 10-wöchigen ‘FAST TRACK’-Lehrgangs in Vollzeitform” as the duration(s) for a prep course. (“12-month Sunday course or a 10-week ‘FAST TRACK’ course in full time”) In contrast, the most typical length for a master, to go from a bachelor at level 6 to level 7, is likely two years/four semesters of full-time study—and here we have roughly half a semester. Indeed, going by study time and what is discussed above, I am not certain that this course is enough even to promote a Meister from level 5 to level 6, with the bachelors,** and it sure as hell is not enough for level 7, with the masters. Indeed, even if we were to accept Meisters at level 6, in conformance with the official framework, the idea of these 10 weeks being enough for level 7 is ludicrous.

*I have clicked around a bit, and they often seem to include a few years of work and knowing English. Knowing English is a Abitur/pre-Bachelor skill and gaining a few years of work experience is something that anyone can do. (A Meister or equivalent is, of course, presumed, but the “equivalent” also seems to have much more leeway than the must-have-a-bachelor criterion to begin a master, which weakens the credibility further.)

**This depends on where at level 5 we put the Meister. If high enough, these 10-weeks worth might just be enough; if not, then not.

The trick, I suspect, is that the IHK qualifications very deliberately include work experiences as boosters (or, even, the brunt of the qualification), while the academic degrees do not. Why this is highly misleading has already been discussed—and it comes close to the diploma-mill scam of “Earn credit for work experience!!!”, except that the IHKs work with the full support of the government.*

*No, I am not contradicting want I say in below, in another excursion: a way to include work experience in the framework would be good, to push it in through the backdoor to the benefit of special interest groups is bad, and to create a general fake impression, even outside the framework, of equivalence is very bad. The effect here is that the one has three years of higher education to earn a bachelor and ten years of work experience, and is stuck at level 6, while the other has, maybe, a year’s worth of higher education, the same ten years of work experience, and is promoted to level 7. Maybe he has learned an enormous amount during those ten years (I did, during my first ten years, and my second ten years), but how are his ten years worth more than the bachelor’s ten years?

As an aside, visitors to the above page might notice the use of phrases like “Master Professional” and “Bachelor Professional”. This is a recent trick to increase the value of these qualifications further, and to further push the fake equivalency with the real degrees—and it leads to a further devaluation of the real degrees, to worsen the situation discussed in [1] (see “Berufsakademie”, etc.).

Excursion on comparisons not made:
There are two obvious comparisons that I have not made:

Firstly, a direct look at the general abilities and whatnots that the framework presupposes on various levels. Such descriptions tend to be wishful thinking or even free fantasies, especially when it comes to what various politicians, educators, advertisers, and similar claim that e.g. earning a certain degree will achieve. The descriptions for a certain qualification will not only usually exceed what is found after reaching that qualification, but often what is found one or two qualifications higher. To boot, the descriptions tend to be vague and open to interpretation. Correspondingly, a comparison is either pointless or will require a much more in-depth understanding of what is intended by the respective descriptions.

Secondly, a comparison with similar qualifications in other countries. While sensible, it would require a lot of work, especially as the number of occupations involved in Germany is very large;* and might fail due to (a) my too limited knowledge of the respective local situation or (b) the likely internationally unusual German system.** Moreover, I cannot rule out that other countries have fallen into the same trap. (However, note that claims by others to the effect that such a comparison should put the Meister at level 5 was the starting point of my interest. Cf. the above quote from [1].)

*It is by no means just carpenters, plumbers, and grocery-store staff, but countless others. To make matters more complicated, there are many cases where a certain field, notably software development, is covered both by IHK programs and regular university degrees—and an apparent match in, say, Spain to an IHK program might turn out to actually be a better match for a university degree. (By analogy, a chemistry course offered by a high school in country A does not, or only very rarely, compare properly with a chemistry course offered by a university in country B—but a too casual and naive observer might see two chemistry courses and jump to conclusions.)

**In my native Sweden, for instance, the nearest equivalent to Azubi programs are pure school programs that cover similar theory and praxis entirely in school, while there is likely no near equivalent of a Meister (today; as opposed to “yore”). This with the reservation that I have had less exposure to the Swedish system than the German, having spent the clear majority of my adulthood in Germany.

Excursion on age:
Just like with work experience, it could be argued that the typical newly minted Meister has an advantage over the typical newly minted bachelor (after adjusting for I.Q. and whatnot) through typically being older at the time of “graduation”. However, we again have the problem that taking this into consideration will unfairly favor the Meister. Yes, it might be true when comparing a freshly graduated bachelor at age 22 with a freshly “graduated” Meister at, say, 28, but it will not remain so when compare both at age 28, let alone 48.)

Excursion on other deficits of the framework:
There are other deficits with this scale. Consider e.g.:

  1. It does not reflect non-formal qualifications, including work experience and self-studies.

    This might be hard to avoid, but it is a whopper. For instance, to someone in his early forties, is a degree achieved twenty years ago more important than the following twenty years of work experience?* For my part, I have no qualms about claiming that my informal studies, even discounting work experience, rightfully should move me to level 8, with the Ph.D.-holders, while my formal qualifications and my “official” classifications leave me at just level 7, even be it twice over.

    *In sufficiently brainy fields.

  2. Multiple qualifications on a certain level bring no extra value. I have two master’s degrees and share level 7 with those who have one—and those who have a dozen. (Should they exist.) This while a single Ph.D. nominally trumps any number of master’s degrees. (Yes, the nature of a Ph.D. is different, and maybe one Ph.D. should trump two master’s degrees—but three? Four? Five? Should a single master’s degree trump two or three bachelors?)
  3. Even formal qualifications are all or nothing. For instance, someone with half a bachelor, be it due to an interruption or because he is still in college, is no better off than a high-school graduate. The successful student might then go from level 4 to level 6 from one day to the next, after having spent 3 or 4 years at level 4. A better system might involve a component of “credits earned” at different levels, instead of just “degrees earned”.
  4. It does not include a 9th level for “higher doctorates” and other “post-doc” successes, like published papers and scientific discoveries. This is of some importance in e.g. Germany, where a regular doctorate is not always sufficient for professorships and where the status as terminal degree is disputable.*

    *The “Habilitation” is indisputably rated higher, and has a regular doctorate as a pre-condition, but the waters are muddied by how different Bundesländer and/or universities formally categorize it, and whether it counts as/results in a degree or something else.

  5. Individual countries can have incentives to give their own qualifications an artificially high level (as with Germany and the Meister).
  6. It fails to separate real university degrees from the “Fachhochschule” and “Berufsakademie” degrees (cf. [1]) and degrees otherwise of different quality, e.g. between master’s degrees with and without a thesis, and between a Ph.D.* with a large thesis portion and one consisting mostly of classes. (Also note the following two items.)

    *In all fairness, specifically German doctorates are thesis heavy—period. However, the overall framework is for Europe, not Germany, and there might only be a question of time before “softer” doctorates become an issue, as yet another symptom of academic inflation.

  7. It fails to recognize the difference between even a “barely passed” and a “summa cum laude”.

    I would certainly argue that the difference between the two can be worth one step on a better scale, and I would go as far as to suggest a need for outright separate degrees, e.g. in that a bachelor is awarded in two different forms depending on whether someone was above or below a certain quality mark, which can then easily be fitted into different levels.* (Although a slightly more fine-grained scale might be needed, e.g. one going from 1 to 16 instead of 1 to 8, which would allow the same division on all levels. Also see earlier remarks on the coarseness of the scale.)

    *I note e.g. that the English often speak of receiving “a first”, “an upper second”, or similar, rather than just “a bachelor”. These are strictly speaking not different degrees, but it shows a saner attitude than in e.g. the U.S. and Germany, where the degree is mentioned first and the quality is either left out (more often) or mentioned only in second place (less often; as in e.g. “graduated summa cum laude”).

  8. It fails to acknowledge the difference in difficulty between e.g. math and gender-studies, which might well exceed the difference from the previous item.
  9. There is no dimension of field/relevance/whatnot. Consider e.g. my own switch to software development (cf. [1]): I was already on level 7, through my largely non-software studies, but was now in a new field.* Was I better or worse off than if I had gained a more relevant level 6 qualification?** Almost certainly worse. Similarly, if I want plumbing done, I would rather turn to a plumber than to a Ph.D. in classical languages (level 8), regardless of whether he be a Meister classified as level 6, a Meister classified as level 5, or a former Azubi who is a mere level 4.

    *However, with hindsight, I believe that I have underestimated the benefits a little in [1], as my continual computer exposure (even if unrelated to software development) did make me a touch typist, did familiarize me with command lines, did broaden my (user) experiences with software, and did give me an early Unix exposure, without which I could conceivably have been stuck as a naive Windows user for quite a few years past graduation.

    **Say, today, a bachelor in software development. Back then, the closest choice would likely have been computer science.

Excursion on hyper-egalitarianism:
With the absurdly strong Leftist influence on this-and-that in Germany (and many other countries), there is a possibility that some of the issues here and in [1] go back to hyper-egalitarianism, that all roads to and types of education must be considered equal in value, or that e.g. considering an academic better* than a craftsman or a university better* than a “Berufsakademie” would be bourgeois snobbery.

*This in two variations, the one in doing so directly, the other in considering them different and, thereby, “risk” that “unenlightened” non-Leftists form the opinion that the one was better than the other. Notably, even without making a value judgment of “better”, we do have an objective difference in that earning a proper academic degree involves more thinking and more work than earning a Meister. (Ditto Abitur vs. Azubi, etc.)

Remark on capitalization:
In German, all nouns, not just proper nouns, are capitalized. I usually keep this capitalization when I use German nouns in English (most notably, “Rechtsstaat” and variations). Hence “Meister” with a capital “M”, because I use the German noun, but “bachelor”, because I use the pre-existing English word, not a redundant import of the German “Bachelor” (which originated as a borrowing of the English word). As an aside, I would be in favor of English following the German example, as it can reduce ambiguity, speed up interpretation, and make exposure to previously unknown words easier to handle.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 5, 2022 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

German make-work, barriers of entry, the Azubi system, etc.

with 2 comments

As I noted earlier this week, Germany is big on make-work. A partial reason for this might be a default approach that someone spends years learning one occupation* and remains in that occupation for the entirety of his life. If, then, the old occupation disappears or is severely reduced, a multitude is now forced to spend years learning a new occupation, to go unemployed, or to take some extremely low-end job that requires no qualifications.

*I use “occupation” over “profession”, because most of the cases under discussion will be below the typical standard for a profession. Vice versa, “trade” would often be a match, but might be too restrictive on the high end or for some types of occupations. The word “occupation” is not necessarily ideal in other regards, but I can find no better solution to avoiding “profession” off the top of my head. For instance, neither “job” nor “vocation” truly does the trick.

Historically, there has been some justification to this attitude, as many skills involved the right physical speed, dexterity, and “knack” (and, to some part or in some fields, strength and endurance) at specialized tasks, which can only be built through enough practice. (And where there might be some advantage to beginning young in terms of malleability.) For instance, take a weaver working a loom: in order to increase his output, he must be able to perform certain movements faster and/or for longer, and he must be able to do so with so high a precision that the quality of the output remains acceptable. Let us say that he is forced to switch to sewing. It is very possible that he will have an advantage over complete beginners through his skill as a weaver, but his new colleagues will view him as a clumsy slowpoke for a good long while,* until he catches up sufficiently in speed and whatnot. This, of course, assuming that he manages to get enough work in the interim to develop these skills and that he does not starve to death before he has done so.** Then we have complications like the need to get hold of the more literal tools of the trade and material to work on, the risk that much material is wasted in the early phases through mistakes, etc. When our ex-weaver learned weaving, he might have done so as an apprentice, with free food and lodging, under the supervision of a master and with access to the master’s tools, and through a process that began with the performance of trivial tasks as a child and ended with competent work at, maybe, some point in his late teens.*** Now, as an adult, starting over, his situation is likely to be very different.

*How long, I do not know, but chances are that we are talking months to be taken seriously and years to be fully “on par” again. Looking at myself and touch typing, the most similar mechanical skill that I know from extensive personal experience, I am a better typist today than I was ten years ago, and ten years ago, I had already been at it for eighteen years.

**To the first, customers are likely to prefer the more skilled, who will get the job done faster and at a higher quality. To the second, a lower output and a lower quality will mean correspondingly less money.

***Disclaimer: While I have some idea about old apprenticeships in general, I have no special knowledge about weaving, and I do not guarantee that this matches what took place in weaving during any given time period. However, it is the big picture that matters.

(The more intellectual skills? Yes, they were important too, and here too a partial redevelopment would be needed. However, when push comes to shove, an ex-weaver who had learned to handle the needle well enough could find work under someone who had the right domain knowledge and whatnot. If he could not handle the needle, he was out to begin with. Moreover, ability to think is often more important than knowledge, and this ability remains when we switch fields; moreover, at least some of the more intellectual skills would translate, especially between adjacent fields. Today, however, the intellectual skills are likely the bigger stumbling block.)

Today, it is different, as e.g. the transition from being the operator of an industrial loom to the operator of an industrial sewing machine is a far smaller obstacle. Yes, if someone wants to go from machine operator to physician, the effort is massive, but this would, if at all, be something done more out of passion than need.

However, today does come with its own set of obstacles, many in terms of attitude, many in terms of artificial entry barriers—and from here temptations like use of make-work and subsidies to keep old occupations alive can arise. In Germany,* there is a wide range of occupations where the practitioner is supposed to have a certain education, sometimes by regulation, sometimes by mere expectation—and, no, I am not talking about just physicians and lawyers. The more-often-than-not misguided restrictions range from teachers** to the cashiers*** in a grocery store.

*With similar issues common in many other countries, although rarely to such a degree.

**Teachers must by law pass government exams and have a certain university education. They are not necessarily very good because of this education, teaching is rarely the first choice for the best minds, and talents from other fields, who might be looking for a change of tempo or a new challenge, are kept out by the high entry barriers. Similar errors are common internationally, but the German rules for teachers rival what other countries post for lawyers.

***No, there are no governmental exams for cashiers, and many are just doing a brief stint to solve an unemployment issue or to have some income while studying; however, the intended-by-the-powers-that-be road to a job in a grocery store, be it cashier or store manager, is to work as an Azubi (cf. below) to earn the title of Kaufmann/-frau (depending on sex).

The proportion of jobs for which a certain position is non-negotiable has grown smaller, but the IHKs* have worked very hard to keep it up. Indeed, during my early years in Germany, they tried, if in vain, to push mandatory IHK qualifications for anyone who wanted to run a computer/software/whatnot business, as was the case for e.g. carpenters—never mind whether the prospective runner already held an academic degree relating to computers and/or had years of experience in the field at hand. (These were comparatively new fields at the time. Today, the same request would have had no chance at all.)

*Imagine if the local city guilds in a medieval town joined up to form one single mega-guild, which additionally provided a range of different exams, of often disputable value. Put in the money and effort to pass the right exam(s), and you are on the inside, like a lawyer within the bar; don’t, and you are on the outside and not allowed to compete with the insiders. (To take the exams there are fees and expensive preparatory courses, but, from what I have been told and with typical reservations for hearsay, it is almost hard to fail the actual exams, likely because the point is less to keep the quality of the insiders up and more to ensure that only those who have paid their dues are allowed to become insiders.)

One of the main tools of (not necessarily deliberately) raising barriers is the focus on “Azubi” apprenticeships,* which take three-or-so years, depending on the field, to complete. Now, there is not necessarily anything wrong with the Azubi system, per se, as a way to gain practical experience in a certain occupation, together with some theoretical and general knowledge. However, there is a lock-in effect, and one pushed by the likes of the IHKs. For instance, in many countries, a young man with some generic tool skills, who is locking for a first job, can ask around and maybe find a construction job, or a job in a garage, or with a carpenter, or whatnot, with the understanding that “we will see how you work out”. This is not impossible in Germany, but chances are that he will be met with “But you were not an Azubi in our field—we have no use for you!”, “Become an Azubi first and in three years we will see. No, we do not offer any Azubi positions.”, or similar more often than he likes. Similar problems will often manifest when someone has had a job (and/or been an Azubi) in field A and now wants to switch to field B. Moreover, the too young German faces the complication of mandatory school, which, depending on location and circumstances, might extend as far as 18. Being an Azubi formally fulfills the requirement of going to school; just working for someone, no matter how educationally successfully, does not.**

*“Azubi” is short for “Auszubildender”; literally, roughly, “one to be educated”; more idiomatically “apprentice” or “trainee” (assuming a comparatively low level of trainee). Beware that I use the word with some syntactic and other liberty, in order to avoid introducing too many German words and/or jumping between English and German words.

**Generally, Germany has utterly failed to understand that education is good, but that school is a different matter altogether. For instance, there are years of mandatory school (not education) and home schooling is forbidden as an alternative to “regular” school. Land der Dichter und Denker? Wohl eher der Dicken und Doofen!

Indeed, switching is tricky. Firstly, we have the psychological component of having invested these three years into a certain field and a certain training program, and many will feel that these “sunk costs” are hard to leave behind. Secondly, there is the issue of qualifications, where the switcher will either have the wrong training or be forced to retrain—which can imply further months or years down the drain.* To this, we have the risk that someone does go through retraining—only to discover that the new field is another poor fit (has low demand, or whatever might be the problem). Thirdly, we have the trainer–employer’s** view. Here there are at least two questions that are likely to arise, namely, “If you failed at A, why should we expect you to succeed at B?” and “If you did not stick with A and your old trainer–employer, how do we know that you will not dump us, after all that we have invested?”.

*I have not looked into the options here, but if we assume that an Azubi-level formal qualification is wanted, I doubt that it would be doable without at least one additional year, more likely two, as there are limits to what rebate the previous training can bring in the new field.

**Azubis are hired by the business where the practical training takes place, with the understanding that a proper employment will usually follow after “graduation”. The pay is low, but over three years it accumulates. To this, the costs of training and whatnot have to be added, while it is unclear how much of the costs the Azubi can offset through productive work. (Using Azubis “too” productively can even lead to problems with regulators—Azubis are officially there to learn, not to be productive workers.)

Going higher in the IHK system increases the lock-in effect. It does not end with the basic qualification that a successful Azubi earns. It is followed by at least two (optional) further levels, the first being “Meister”*. Complete your Azubi education and you can work in a field, but to run a business in that field, you had better be a Meister. So, now you have spent years of effort and many thousands of Euros on earning the right IHK qualifications for this specific field, not to mention the opportunity cost of foregoing other options, and you want or need to do something else? Tough luck. (See excursion for a comparison with higher education.) Or, now you are thirty and want to join the teens for basic qualifications? Would you enjoy that and would you be accepted?

*Literally, “master”; corresponds roughly to the traditional master craftsman; not to be confused with the academic degree. (Apart from the very different material and approach, the degree is at level 7 on the German version of the European Qualifications Framework, while the Meister is at level 6—and I have seen the claim that this is only due to IHK lobbying, with 5 being a rating more compatible with the rating of similar international qualifications. From a casual look, I consider the claim very plausible.)

An unfortunate development is that the Abitur* is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite for the more attractive Azubi positions, when the intention is that the Azubi is “instead of”—either someone earns an Azubi and goes straight to work or he earns an Abitur and goes on to university. This sets the career entry back by several years for the Azubis, reduces the time available for a later career shift,** and might make the perceived cost of the first Azubi period larger (with an ensuing greater perception of being entitled to work in a certain field, as opposed to biting the bullet and retraining to be something else).

*The German approximate equivalent of high school is divided into several different tracks. The Abitur is earned by finishing the longest and most academically challenging track. It is mostly intended for those who intend to continue at university, and it is, in its own right, closer to an associate’s degree than to a U.S. high-school diploma. Here, too, I take some liberties in the use of the word, for the sake of simplicity.

**But might move the original career choice to a time of greater maturity and insight.

From another perspective, keeping the perception of worth/qualification in a certain field tied to a certain program, study, whatnot is advantageous to those who lack in brains but still want to feel important, claim to be competent, use authority arguments (with them as the authority…), and similar. This has likely contributed to similar problems worldwide and on many different levels, e.g. in that a presumptuous chimney sweep declares himself an expert while having the expertise of a cocker-spaniel,* that a principal with an Ed.D. in “educational leadership” speaks with authority on pedagogy and talks down to teachers who have a mere master’s degree, and similar.

*See a handful of older texts for my personal experiences.

A particularly frustrating example from my own life is my attempt to register with the Künstlersozialkasse* when I switched from software to writing. My registration was denied with various nonsensical claims, many in the family that I had not studied writing in college and could, therefore, not conceivably have a serious interest in writing—despite there being no formal requirement to this effect. This while, apparently, any idiot who has a degree in journalism is welcomed with open arms, despite journalists typically being incompetent writers and definitely not being Künstler, and despite the massive current surplus of journalists.** This well demonstrates how “Quereinsteiger”*** are kept out with teeth and claw when there is a surplus in a certain field (or would be a surplus, if entry barriers were lower), while they are welcomed with open arms when there is a deficit, as with IT around 1999 (and at many other times).

*Over-simplified explanation: a way to keep costs for e.g. health insurance down when working in a creative profession. I have filed a complaint with the right court, but am, years later, still waiting for the case to have its turn. The “Künstler” part implies artist, but is taken to include e.g. authors of literature in contexts like these; and the Künstlersozialkasse has the definite original purpose of helping those who try to make some type of art, be it paintings, literature, or music—not journalists.

**This is likely another instance of make-work (or something in a related family): newspapers do not sell as they used to and we cannot have all those journalists switching to some other field just because there is too little work to go around.

***A popular German term to indicate someone who switches fields. Looking at components, “[E]insteiger” means entrant/someone who enters, “[q]uer” something crossing something else or, by metaphorical use, something odd or unusual (as with the related English “queer”). How these are intended to be combined in meaning is not clear to me even in German, but variations like “someone who enters queerly” (no innuendo intended), “someone who enters in a sidewise [sideways?] manner”, and, maybe, “someone who uses a side-entrance” are conceivable.

Excursion on switching fields after higher education resp. IHK education:
Yes, there is a similar issue with switching fields after higher education, say, after earning a master’s degree in engineering physics, but there are key aspects that differ. The most notable is that a larger proportion of the population and a much larger proportion of the low-qualification/-payment/-status jobs are affected by the IHKs. That switching from a career as a physician to one as a lawyer is tricky, well, that is understandable, maybe even unavoidable—but switching from mere employee in a carpentry business to mere employee in a plumbing business? Then we have the age of decision: the Azubi applications are often made by mid-teenagers, and a once started program is hard to change; in the U.S., the (final) choice of college major might be around 19/20, and the choice to go to med school, law school, or earn a master/Ph.D. even later; in e.g. Germany or Sweden, similar (non-master/-Ph.D.) choices might be made at 18/19,* but dropping out of one degree program to follow another has fewer complications and less “loss of face” than switching from one Azubi program to another (and the college fees are much smaller than in the U.S., making a switch less painful economically). Then we have the filter effect of higher education,** where e.g. the degree tells us so much more about the characteristics of the graduate than a completed Azubi program does; and the fact that both the depth and the breadth of a college degree is far greater, and more generic skills are present. Through this filter effect and the greater depth/breadth, a college graduate is more attractive to employers in other fields (within reasonable limits) than an Azubi.

*As they do not work with “generic” bachelors-with-majors, but with more field-specific ones, where a major would be redundant; and as the equivalent of med and law school is available without a prior bachelor. Note that “high school” ends at a higher age than in the U.S.

**Even be it less so today than in the past, due to the flooding with students well short of “college material”; however, the STEM fields are still reasonably strong.

Excursion on my own experiences:
Why “master’s degree in engineering physics” in the above excursion? Because that is what I earned for my first master: I originally studied mostly math and physics, but went to work as a software developer,* transitioning through a mixture of on-the-job learning and own studies. I spent most of that time in the Java area, but later transitioned to Oracle and PL/SQL, again through a mixture of on-the-job learning and own studies. A few years back, I decided to write fiction and went through the same again. In addition, I had an interruption of my Java years to work as a business analyst, which followed a similar pattern; and I am a certified Scrum master. My formal education, be it the original math/physics or the master of computer science that I later earned, have been of little value in terms of my work capabilities,** and I would almost certainly have developed faster as a software developer, had I foregone them. In contrast, one of the modern software-development “boot camps” might have been a more valuable help.*** Put in the hard work and switching fields, while reaching average**** standards, is not that hard, even for “brainy” fields, and the less so for more practically oriented ones. (Excepting those few with strict formal criteria and some few where a very large amount of knowledge is presumed. Work as a physician is an example of both.)

*This original switch was motivated by my wish to stay in Germany and the impression that it would be easier to find work in software development during the then (1999) raging IT boom. Later switches were based on shifting interests and a wish for something new. (Except for the period as business analyst, which was offered to me by my then boss, and which I, with hindsight, should have turned down.)

**But they might very well have helped me get jobs through improving my CV. Two exceptions are a very programming heavy first-year course and the programming work done on my first master’s thesis, which gave me some introductory experience and made the transition easier, but this was a small fraction of the overall workload. The master of computer science had much more programming/software-development related material; however, surprisingly little of that has been of any practical use. (It might very well be that someone with less prior practical experience and/or someone who took a strongly software-development oriented program, which computer science is not, would have had a different experience.)

***I have no practical experience and am only superficially familiar with the idea and typical contents, but the principle is promising.

****Well above average, in my case, but I am brainier than most. More generally, the standards reachable in a given time frame will depend strongly on the level of brains available (and/or what other constraint might be present in a given field)—but the sad truth is that the average in most fields is highly unimpressive. (To be among the best of the best of the best in a field is a different matter entirely, but, almost tautologically, this is an accomplishment that is extremely rare even among those who stick to a single field, unless that field is quite small.)

However, this assumes (a) that there are no artificial obstacles like those caused by an over-reliance* on the Azubi-system, (b) that the attempt is made with a dedicated effort, (c) that the attempt is actually made.

*Note that I see Germany as being overly reliant on the Azubi-system. Kept within better limits, the problems would be smaller, and much of what is today done within the Azubi-system could be done better with a mixture of more informal on-the-job training and regular work-experience. I might suggest a new coinage of “learning-on-demand”, where employees on simple jobs are taught relevant skills if and when the need arises—not in a blanket manner. Manning the check-out in a grocery store, e.g., is not rocket science (heart surgery, corporate law, engineering, whatnot). A plumbing trainee who knows how to install a sink can be taught how to install a toilet with ease and on demand.* Etc. Certainly, this is how things very often work in more qualified occupations, e.g. software development, except that the learner is supposed to learn things through own thought, through experience, from books and the Internet, or (on the very outside) a tip at the coffee machine, without needing a teacher.

*If he can learn it at all. If he is dumb as a doornail, he might fail, but then he would likely fail no matter when he is taught, and chances are that he would have failed with the sink too.

Excursion on devaluation of academic degrees:
In Germany, there is not just a problem with regular academic inflation (grade inflation, too many students admitted, too many wishy-washy degrees, whatnot), but also with a devaluation of “proper” academic degrees through the awarding of degrees with the same name by “Fachhochschulen”* and “Berufsakademien”** that use lower standards of quality and/or quantity. Imagine, as an analogy, if U.S. community colleges were allowed to award three-year*** bachelor degrees, and the difference between these and a four-year bachelor degree from a regular college was not properly respected. To make matters worse, this follows upon the Bologna-process, which replaced the established “Diplom” system with a more Anglo-American bachelor + master system, with different universities having different stringency standards in the wake of the confusion (and not every employer and whatnot actually understanding how the systems compare).

*They often use translations like “university of applied sciences”. Whether this matches the use in the U.S., e.g. in the sense of “associate of applied sciences” is unclear to me, but they do have a more vocational and less academic tilt. The use of “university” is definitely questionable, and “college” might better, but still only approximately, reflect the German division into “Universität” and “Hochschule”. Then again, this division is another thing that the powers-that-be try to eradicate, leading to yet another devaluation.

**I am unclear what the equivalent would be, if any. A literal translation is “professional/vocational academies”. They are, in my impression, to real universities what Azubi-studies are to regular school, including a tie to a specific employer and a corresponding large work-for-credit portion. In an absurd twist, what Berufsakademien award are not formally counted as degrees (“akademische Grade”) but “staatliche Abschlussbezeichnungen” (approximately, “state graduation designations”; the German original is almost as idiotic). The names of the not-degrees remain the same as for the university degrees.

***A relevant comparison within the U.S. system. German bachelor degrees are also often three years long, but this is not a relevant comparison, as the Abitur is a pre-requisite and far beyond the U.S. high-school degree (as noted above).

Excursion on the college mania and Azubis:
Germany is yet another country hit by the college mania, where everyone and his uncle wants a bachelor’s degree (or more). A consequence is that that the number of strong candidates for a position as Azubi is diminished. This, in turn, leads to a lower quality of low-level workers, especially if college graduates are too proud* to take such jobs and/or their applications are rejected for lacking the formal IHK qualifications. For the same reason, employers and prospective Azubis cannot agree on whether there are too few Azubi applicants or too few open Azubi positions. (The raw number of Azubi applicants, who want a position, is often considerably larger than the number of satisfactory applicants, to whom the industry wants to give a position.)

*The belief that a degree automatically opens doors is increasingly incorrect, due to the reduced value of degrees as filters, but can be hard to overcome.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 4, 2022 at 11:44 pm