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A Swede in Germany

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

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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.

    Translation:
    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.

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Written by michaeleriksson

November 5, 2022 at 5:21 pm

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

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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

The tax filings / Follow-up: Depressing software issues and the yearly tax filings

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A few days ago, I wrote of depressing software issues ([1]) preceding the yearly tax filings. Now I have completed the actual tax filings.

For obvious reasons (minimal activity in 2021), it was the least effort that I have had in many years, taking roughly twenty minutes for the actual filling-out-the-forms, including checking and re-checking, and maybe another five minutes for finding the few numbers and papers needed. (But not counting the software complications described in [1] and the need to buy batteries for my mouse.)

However, that filling-out-the-forms could easily have been done in a quarter of the time, had Elster worked better, including having a more thought-through workflow and a more sensible set of fields carried over when importing data from last year’s forms. A particular problem was with the EÜR*: a number of fields were marked as empty-but-mandatory, forcing me to enter redundant 0s in some Euro-fields. One of the fields (net profit?) was mandatory and not automatically calculated (or manually editable) until I had redundantly added a dummy 0 in a non-mandatory field, which took a while to figure out. The empty-but-mandatory fields also included four fields for the Steuernummer**, which occurred twice—once filled in, once empty.*** There was no import of the second occurrence from the other, nor from last year, and I was forced to look up the values externally (as Elster does not allow having multiple pages open in parallel). Worse, one of the fields, to identify my local IRS by name, was likely redundant, as the equivalent information is hard-wired into the first of three numerical components of the Steuernummer proper. As the (overall) numerical component was artificially split into three parts, a single copy-and-paste was impossible, increasing the work and the risk for errors even further.

*A statement of various revenues and costs that allows a simplified calculation of taxable profits for small businesses.

**An entity identifier used for tax purposes. I have written about it and several related issues, including the artificial tri-partition of the field(s), in the past, but I lack the energy to search for links at the moment. (I have many previous texts on Elster and the IRS, and to find the right text or texts could take a while.)

***Presumably, two different values can occur for the same EÜR, for one reason or another. In my case, they have always been the same, and, at a minimum, the value from last time around should have been respected for the version idiotically kept empty.

By the time that I was done with the EÜR, I felt the pressure of irritation reach the border of anger, as I have been plagued by so many other problems with the incompetence and tax-payer/user hostility of Elster and the IRS over the years, and I seriously contemplated leaving the rest for tomorrow. However, I pushed on and, for once, the remainder went almost without problems: I had merely to enter a few trivial values and check that no spurious fields from 2020 were left filled.

However, these trivial values included, in the main document, values from two secondary documents (the EÜR and the VAT declaration) that should have been imported automatically to avoid the additional work and the additional risk of errors, as well as numbers from my health insurance, which the IRS will, as a matter of course, ignore in favor of the exact same values delivered directly from the insurer to the IRS. Idiotic. (And something which remains idiotic—I have complained about these issues before. Indeed, most or all of the old problems seem to remain, but they had less effect this year, due to my much easier situation, filing-wise, and my knowledge of what to expect—like when one has developed the knack of opening or closing that tricky hatch, gate, whatnot, which is so troublesome for the first-time user. Consider e.g. the severely misleading labels for various actions in Elster—knowing what they actually do, as opposed to what they claim to do, makes life easier.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2022 at 2:22 pm

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Inflation hitting harder than it officially should

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During the days of comparatively low inflation, before the COVID-countermeasure and Russia-boycott era[s] took over, I repeatedly saw claims that inflation numbers were highly misleading and that the “true” inflation rate was higher than officially indicated.* While I never looked into this in detail, it does seem to hold in the current world, where price hikes on at least food** have often been far larger than the alleged, already high, inflation rate.

*Including some interesting side-claims, e.g. that governmental dietary recommendations were less aimed at improving health and more at shifting consumption to cheaper foodstuffs, e.g. from meat to bread. (I make no statement about the correctness of this claim, but I note that the recommendations that I remember from school were quite heavy in carbohydrates, which are often viewed less positively today, and easy on proteins, in general, and non-dairy animal products, in particular.)

**My consumption of other things than food and energy tends to be small and irregular, making changes hard to judge. (There are books and the like, but I buy a book once, and a difference in price between two different books tells me little about inflation.) Moreover, I do not pay attention to my own energy prices unless my supplier sends me a letter; and the price increases on energy are complicated through government interventions, and correspondingly hard to judge relative inflation when we look at the direct consumption. (But it is a major driver of inflation through indirect consumption, as electricity goes into virtually everything else that we buy.)

Some examples that have particularly annoyed me,* typically** with a price change taking place in 2022 alone:

*Especially in light of their being unnecessary, being largely caused by flawed government interventions of various types, notably regarding COVID and energy.

**As I have not kept actual notes, I cannot be more specific than that.

Milk: Used to be 60-something cents for a liter.* Is now at 99 cents, for an increase of around 50 (!) percent.**

*Here and elsewhere, I go by the brands that I usually buy. Note that I tend to buy cheaper brands, including store brands. (Germans might recognize “Ja!” as a good example.)

**I will use rough approximations throughout, as I do not usually know the exact old and/or the exact new price. Here, as a lower limit based on an original price of 69 cents, we have 43 percent. With lower original prices, the percentage increases.

Meals for frying: The local Aldi has a range of ready meals that just need a few minutes in a frying pan.* The one that I bought most often, a great personal favorite, was at 1.80-something. A few months ago, it was raised to 2.20-something, and then, again, to 2.60-something—40 percent or more.

*There is almost certainly a good English word for such, but I have no idea what it might be.

(Various other frozen meals? In a very rough guesstimate, the average price increase has been in excess of 20 percent on e.g. frozen pizzas, frozen lasagnas, and whatnots, with a variation from product to product.)

Sausages: The type and package of sausage that I have bought most frequently over the last few years, used to be at (likely) 1.99 Euro. The last time around, it was at 2.39 (?), for around 20 percent.

Coffee: I used to be able to buy the “good” brands for around 2.50 Euro per 500g package at ever recurring* sales, with a regular price of around 5 Euro. Today, the rebated price tends to be above 5 Euro and the regular price at 7-something Euro. Moreover, there are fewer sales. From my point of view, the prices have roughly doubled. (However, coffee often underlies price fluctuations based on e.g. how successful harvests have been. The overall change might reflect more than just inflation.)

*For a long stretch, the brands took turns with sales in a near continuous manner.

Rote Grütze:* Aldi used to sell this in 1kg buckets (handle and all). By now, the buckets are gone and 0.5kg containers have come instead. The buckets used to sell for around 2.50 Euro; the cones are at around 1.50 Euro, for a price/kg of around 3 Euro and, again, an increase of roughly 20 percent.

*There appears to be no good English name, but compote seems to be something slightly similar.

An interesting “maybe” is a great deterioration in the quality of my (previously) favorite brand* of muesli: For a period of maybe six months, every new package that I bought contained less and less nuts and more and more raisins. While I have nothing against raisins, this has shifted both the taste- and the health-profiles in a negative direction: The taste is by now over-powered by the raisins, the benefits of the nuts are gone, and the fast sugars of the raisins are likely to screw with how the body reacts.** The last time around, I actually found myself manually picking out as many raisins as I (with a reasonable effort) could. This was a few months ago and I have no intention of revisiting the brand.

*One of the two versions of the Rewe store-brand to be specific.

**Indeed, one of the reasons that I preferred this brand was that is was, originally, lower in fast sugars than many others. Notably, as great as good muesli is, it is very energy rich. Combine this energy richness with fast sugars and the associated ups-and-downs in blood sugar level, and I suspect bad things to be the result.

Excursion on shrinkflation:
With some reservations for rote Grütze above, I am not aware of any case of shrinkflation, but as the intent of shrinkflation is typically subterfuge, there might well be such cases that I simply have missed.

Excursion on low-end products being hit harder:
I would speculate that low-end products are more sensitive to the current problems, which might make me more affected by price increases, as the margins are lower. Higher-end products tend to have higher margins, which could mean that the seller and/or producer are willing to swallow more of a cost increase and/or to delay the price increase for some time—especially, when a portion of the cost increase is believed to be temporary. (Then again, maybe it is the other way around, as they might consider their customers less price sensitive.) An interesting potential example of this is coffee (cf. above): not only have the rebated prices taken a proportionally worse hit than the “full” prices, but capsules for Dolce Gusto* have taken a smaller hit still, at maybe 20 percent. A regular carton of 16 capsules used to be almost as expensive as a 0.5kg package of plain ground coffee, but, obviously, only gives 16 cups, which is far less than the 0.5kg package used for drip brews,** and the margins were correspondingly much larger. (I would not be surprised if most of the price was markup.) Correspondingly, the sellers might prefer to reduce the margin a bit and keep the customers, over keeping the margin and potentially losing customers.

*I buy these once in a blue moon, as the speed and convenience can be pleasant, but I taste-wise (and price-wise…) prefer regular drip brews.

**I have never kept tabs on the number of cups, especially as I make smaller cups when brewing; however, going by weight, my recently purchased “Grande” appears to have “16 x 8g = 128g” according to the carton. This is marginally more than a quarter of the regular coffee; most other types of “black coffee” Dolce Gusto use less or considerably less coffee; and the various cappuccinos, lattes, and whatnot only have 8 doses of coffee (and 8 doses of e.g. milk), making their coffee content correspondingly smaller. (However, they sell at the same price, regardless of coffee content.)

Excursion on inflation vs. deflation vs. fix value:
Even in the glorious days of 2-percent inflation, I was highly skeptical to the approach taken by various governments, central banks, and whatnots. I am not convinced that even this level of inflation was justified by sound Economics, but suspect that it was a matter of governmental convenience at the cost of the people.* Would not a zero inflation be fairer and better for everyone? Alternatively, like in some stretches of “yore”, that prices may have risen one year, sunk the next, and averaged out to near constancy over a longer stretch of time.**

*This might include aspects like a lower debt burden, exchange rates that do not grow too high (by some standard), an implicit shifting of tax brackets to put more and more of the people in higher brackets, and similar. For Leftist governments, we have the added “advantage” of existing fortunes being undermined; and, maybe even for non-Leftist governments, that there is a greater incentive to work, as saving up for the future and living on money already earned is harder.

**Notably, for countries on a gold or silver standard when the amount of available gold resp. silver was approximately constant or grew approximately in proportion to the overall economy.

Take it one step further: Would not deflation (i.e. “negative inflation”) be the way to go to increase the wealth of the people? Keep your salary and your bank account at the same level—and ten years down the line you will still earn more and be wealthier (in real terms). Let better production methods and other developments drive prices down, even if slowly, and everyone might be better off. Ditto if product quantity and/or quality improves at a fix price.

There are claims that a little inflation would be a good thing, and that deflation would be bad; however, these claims have so far left me unconvinced as their are too many conditions applied and/or too much speculation.* For instance, with a deflation of 2 percent a year (compare the longstanding inflation goals of 2 percent a year), why would anyone be deterred from consumption? A similar** effect has not prevented e.g. the computer industry from flourishing and leaving products like food for next year, when they will be cheaper, is either silly or suicidal. Inflation allows (real) wages to go down? Only very temporarily, as the unions will factor in the inflation in the next round of increases. There might be less incentives to borrow money, but I do not see that as a bad thing. Etc.

*Including assumptions about an otherwise fixed economy, without productivity improvements; use of severe deflation (e.g. 20 percent a year) instead of mild (e.g. 2 percent a year); and application of short-term thinking on the agents within the economy in that deflation is a rare abnormality that causes unusual concerns and behaviors. (The latter does match the current situation, but not the situation suggested by me.) Indeed, I suspect that the point of various claims is less to give a fair analysis and more to “prove” that “deflation is bad; ergo, we must have inflation”.

**Here we have a deflationary effect specific to the product group, as opposed to an economy-wide one.

Excursion on “mis-yearing” price increases:
A confounding factor is that businesses do not necessarily increase prices immediately in reaction to various events. The reasons for this can be manifold, including e.g. a wish to wait until the competition raises prices, a wish to avoid unnecessary up-and-down fluctuations, a fear that raising too many prices at once (in e.g. a grocery store) can put off too many customers. Then there is the wish to keep those annoying “x.99” prices. For instance, if a certain product sells at 0.99* and a 10-percent increase is called for (according to some set of criteria), then this would result in a price of 1.09. If the margins are large enough and the fear present that the leading “1” will be a greater deterrent than the leading “0”, it might make sense to wait. A year later, another 10-percent increase is called for, or a “real” price of 1.19**. Foregoing 10 cent is one thing, 20 another, and now the price is raised by the full amount. The impression of the customers might then be misleading, because they are not aware that they had been given an implicit 10-cent rebate in the past. It is certainly possible that the strong price increases in 2022 go back partially to such delays in the increases.

*Here and below, I will leave out the currency units. They would add nothing to the illustration. Note, however, that I implicitly assume an x.yz system in both currency units and notation, which does not apply to all currencies.

**Strictly speaking, 1.20, but that would violate the prices-must-always-end-with-a-9 rule.

Excursion on multiplicative rates and underestimating inflation:
One reason that many underestimate inflation is that they fail to consider its multiplicative nature. For instance, to repeat and extend the above calculations with a more sensible 1 as a basis:

Iteration/Year True value* Naive value**
0 1.00 1.00
1 1.10 1.10
2 1.21 1.20
3 1.33 1.30
4 1.46 1.40
10 2.59 2.00
20 6.73 3.00

*Value achieved by multiplying with a factor of 1.1 for each iteration. Rounded and/or padded to fit the normal price format.

**Value achieved by just adding 10 percent of the original price per iteration. Padded to fit the normal price format.

As we can see, the difference between the true and the naive value is small for the first few years, although a difference is notable already in iteration/year 3 and certainly 4.* However, as time passes, it explodes upwards.

*The naivety of the naive estimate might be increased, should typical pricing be used, as we might then have e.g. 1.29 instead of 1.33 for the third iteration/year—but we might see an apparent explosion to 1.49 for the fourth. (The same phenomenon as discussed in the previous excursion.)

Excursion on other attempts to mislead customers:
Attempts at e.g. “shrinkflation” are not the only problems. For instance, I have recently bought quite a few semi-ready meals from Knorr, where a ready-made mix of pasta, cheese, and various other ingredients are heated in water for a few minutes—convenient, tastes well, and very filling if enough water is used to create something closer to soup than a “dry” meal. (Healthy? More dubious.) However, the misleading claims about energy are definitely problematic. For instance, the package that I am looking at right now makes three claims about energy content: (a) 397 kJ per 100 g of cooked (“zubereitet”) product. A careless customer will now look at the 100 g and the overall raw weight of 153 g and assume roughly an overall of 600 kJ—which borders on diet food. The true value is 2598 kJ, or well above four times as much. The more pleasant value is an illusion created by counting the water. (b) 1294 kJ per alleged serving* (“Portion”). The careless customer would now naturally assume that this is the result of cooking the overall, but he is still off by a factor of two—allegedly, two servings result from a single package. To this, I note that cooking just half the contents while keeping an even distribution of various ingredients would be tricky, that the dish is not suitable for a keep-and-reheat scenario, and that only half would be too little for a full meal for one person. (Half might or might not do as a snack or as a part of a multi-course meal.) (c) 15 % of the energy needed per day.* This, again, per alleged serving and with the same misunderstanding likely to arise. (But, oddly, the value is kept high by using a reference person at 8400 kJ per day, which, I suspect, is on the low side for men and growing teenagers of either sex.)

*Both servings and energy-per-day measures are next to useless, as they vary much too much from person to person. The former does more harm-than-good and should be banned, as they are often outright abused. (I recall seeing bags of potato chips that used servings of 20 g, or well below an ounce. Does not sound like a typical serving to me.) The latter likely do more harm-than-good, and it would be better for the individuals to learn what fits them on an individual basis.

The two values that would have made the most sense, energy per uncooked weight (kJ/100g) and energy per entire package, are very, very absent.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 19, 2022 at 5:57 pm

German incompetence and customer hostility

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Yesterday, I encountered yet another horror of German incompetence and/or customer hostility:

As per notification, the (entirely pointless, cf. excursion) yearly check of the smoke detectors would take place between 11 and 13. This day and time interval had been unilaterally dictated by the service company, Objektus, which earns money of an unjustified and unjustifiable law that mandates these yearly checks.

I waited for the full two hours—and no-one ever showed!

Again: Objektus unilaterally dictates the “when”, putting the residents at a severe disadvantage—and then never shows!

To make matters worse: In this regard, Objektus is a repeat offender. (A very angry written protest will follow.)

To make matters worse, a second time: Some psychopathic neighbor spent the entire two hours making various types of overly loud and highly annoying noises, one ruckus after another, while I did not dare use ear-plugs, lest I miss the doorbell. At the end of the two hours, I was on the verge of snapping—and all for absolutely nothing!

At the risk of repeating things that I have written in the past:

This unconscionable, but unfortunately very-common-in-Germany, approach to gaining entrance effectively forces at least one resident to be at home, often foregoing work, sometimes foregoing other plans, and puts him under other restrictions, e.g. that a visit to the bathroom comes with the risk of not getting to the door in time, should the uninvited guests arrive at the wrong moment. (_If_ they arrive at all…)

The entire systems is geared at the one-sided benefit of the businesses with no regard for the costs and other negative effects on the residents, and with no regard for the negative net effect on society, through loss of working hours, additional travel, additional pollution, additional whatnot.

Even someone working locally is severely put out. Here, e.g., we have a two-hour hole in the middle of the workday. At best, the victim has to take a very extended lunch-break, possibly disrupting the situation at his employer’s, and go back and forth between home and office twice in a single day. Depending on the time of travel and typical working hours, going to work before resp. after might even make so little sense that the victim needs to take a half-day’s vacation.

However, significant portions of the workforce commute a longer distance on a daily basis. For many or most of these, with time intervals like above, going to work at all does not make sense, implying that an entire day of vacation is wasted.

I have, myself, repeatedly had weekly (!) commutes, with more than half a workday’s travel in both directions. Yesterday was a Thursday. If I had been on such a commute at the moment, I would have lost at least two days of works, as going back to the office for the Friday would have involved a disproportionate waste of time and great travel costs. Even going for the first three days of the week would be somewhat disputable: In the “work direction”, I would either have to travel on Sunday, taking an extra costly day in a hotel; or try to pull a full Monday of work on top of the Monday’s travel; or work half a day on Monday with an associated loss in billable hours (on top of the two days already lost). In the “home direction”, I would have the choice between going late on Wednesday, on top of a full workday; cutting Wednesday short (billable hours!); and going up in the middle of the night on Thursday to reach home in time. (And all this assuming that sufficiently well-timed means of travel are available and that no objections are raised at work.) Of course, even this strained three-day week would involve proportions of travel time and costs to billable hours that are far worse than during a full five-day week.* In real-life, the best decision might then be to simply take the entire week (!) off.

*For instance: Assume a total travel time of 10 hours. At five days, this averages to two hours per day; at three days, it averages to 3 1/3 hours per day. Assume 200 Euro travel costs. At five days, 40 Euro per day; at three days, 66 2/3 Euro per day. (Hotel costs per day will increase if a stay Sunday and/or Thursday night is added; decrease if only Monday–Wednesday is chosen.)

Now, to put this in perspective, consider the amount of work actually done by Objektus on a typical visit: Enter the apartment, poke a button on the smoke detector in the hallway with a broomstick, go into the bedroom, poke a button on the smoke detector in the bedroom with the broomstick, leave. This amounts to less than 20 seconds (!!!!!!) of presence in my apartment per typical visit. An atypical visit? Well, every few years the batteries are low. Then we might approach a minute, as the service man receives the old devices (the resident is supposed to have already removed them from the respective ceiling), and new devices are screwed into the fix “sockets” (for want of a better word) in the ceilings.*

*Note that there is not even a change of battery, but a change of the entire device. I am unclear on whether the extra cost for a new device is billed (as billing takes place over building management), or whether batteries are changed elsewhere, after which the old devices are reused in some other apartment—or whether the new devices are billed and the old devices surreptitiously reused.

Then we have the complication that smoke detectors are not the only thing that might need an annual unilaterally dictated visit. Exactly what visits are necessary depends on the exact setup and local regulations, but I have myself experienced at least the following (fortunately, not all in any one apartment): Reading of gas meter, reading of electricity meter, reading of per-radiator heat meters,* reading of water meter, exhaust check of the gas heater, and, of course, smoke-detector inspection. Then there is the triennial other check of the gas heater**. To this there is the risk of other works unilaterally dictated by a third-party,*** and the risk of annual events that the resident**** must plan for himself.******

*Often used in Germany to divide the costs for a central heating onto the residents.

**The “Feuerstättenschau”, which has no obvious English translation. Strictly speaking, I avoided this, because I had already rid myself of all things gas; however, the rest of the residents in my building had this inspection last year. The customer hostility of the responsible chimney sweep is proved by the fact that he failed to combine the date for the gas heater with the exhaust check, which would have been trivial. Between these two checks and the servicing (cf. below), we then have three (!) visits in one year for a single device—even assuming that the device works as it should. Make that four, should the gas meter be within the apartment.

***For instance, last November (?) the water meters were exchanged to fulfill new legal criteria. Yes, this was a one-off event, but it comes on top of everything else. The same applies if the landlord of a renter unilaterally decides to have some type of work done—he will hire someone and the date and time will be dictated to the tenant.

****If the owner. If he is not, chances are that the date would, again, be dictated by some combination of the service provider and the landlord. Even if the owner, there is a significant risk that he needs to adapt to what time slots the service provider has available.

*****I know of at least one specific case, namely the need to have the gas heater serviced on a yearly basis. Note that the work of the service company makes the work of the chimney sweep redundant, even to the extremely limited degree that it made sense to begin with—but here we have another case of the government creating make-work for persons otherwise likely to be un- or underemployed, while dumping all the costs and negative effects on the unwilling people.

Oh, and this unilaterally dictated visit is often on quite short notice, making planning hard. Objektus gave two weeks notice, which puts it among the most generous. A week or less is not uncommon, and I have seen as little as two or three days. (And woe to the resident who happens to be away on vacation and does not see the notification in time.)

Excursion on the pointlessness of smoke-detector inspections:
But smoke detectors save lives!!! Firstly, in as far as they do, at all, the number is small, and this must be weighed fairly against various opportunity costs, where I am far from certain that the balance would be positive. Secondly, it does not matter whether they do. The question here is the yearly servicing of the smoke detectors by a licensed business. Objektus does nothing* that a normal resident (or, say, a son/daughter in the case of the elderly) could not do equally well and with a far lesser investment of time and at a far lesser overall cost. Push the buttons once a year; exchange the batteries once every few years. (Indeed, the resident can arguably do a better job, because he can react that much faster, should the batteries run too low. Note that the smoke detectors regularly emit a loud signal to warn of low batteries for weeks or months before they run out.) Moreover, even if the resident were to fail, nothing worse would happen unless there actually was a fire, and unless the fire went otherwise undetected,** and unless the smoke detectors would actually have been triggered*** in time, and there actually was someone in the apartment to react/be endangered, and likely some other “unlesses” too. To this, we must consider, even when just looking at lives, the extra travel with the extra risk of a traffic accident, the extra stress, the loss of income and/or vacation, whatnot.****

*Nominally, there is supposed to be an additional check that the smoke detectors are sufficiently free and available, or something similar, which might require slightly more judgment. However, (a) it is not an ocean of more judgment, (b) in doubt, I would not trust the judgment of a third-party for such an issue relating to my own safety, (c) the check has, to date, never been made.

**This implies that the resident(s) did not on their own notice any sounds, smoke, heat, whatnot, which likely implies that they were asleep. At the same time, I suspect, most fires are started during the non-sleeping hours, say, through a tipped over candle. The maybe most likely room for a fire, the kitchen, does (understandably) not even have a smoke detector…

***As these (a) react to smoke, (b) must not cause constant false alarms, a non-trivial amount of smoke is likely needed to trigger them. For someone sleeping, I suspect, the alarm might sometimes come too late. This the more so, if someone is drunk or otherwise “under the influence”—and note that fires are disproportionately likely for these. Moreover, not all fires cause a lot of smoke in the early stages, and a fire might already have gained size by the time the alarm is triggered. This especially, if the fire is started in the (detector-free) kitchen, say, because a drunkard forgets something on the stove before going semi-comatose in front of the TV.

****Note that lives and years-of-life are lost through other means than the immediately terminal. Factors like stress and loss of income can also kill in a more subtle manner—and looking at 83 million Germans, the accumulated effect is likely to exceed the lives more immediately saved. (As an analogy, consider short-term death from smoke from a fire vs. long-term death from smoking.)

Excursion on future abuse:
Another issue with smoke detectors and inspections is the risk of future abuse. I have already heard demands that smoke detectors be used for other types of danger notifications, e.g. that they be hooked up so that voice messages about local disasters can be pumped straight into the apartments of the locals. This might seem harmless or even beneficial, but what is next? Hourly reminders that “You are not vaccinated!!!! You can turn this message off by getting a simple vaccine shot!!!”’? Reminders that “Today is election day, you must go out and vote!!!!”? Commercial messages? In reverse, why not have the ability to use the devices for surveillance, to be activated at the convenience of the police at the slightest suspicion? (Note that such demands have already been made concerning tools like Alexa and Siri.) Or why not occasionally replace the real inspector with an undercover policeman to install surveillance equipment surreptitiously, even absent a standardized function—or have him plant evidence to later be “found” during a raid. The possibilities for abuse are endless.

Excursion on other abuse:
Then there is the risk that this process is abused by criminals to gain easy entry, as there is no guarantee that any notification is valid. Set up a date, preferably for a stand-alone house where some old lady lives alone, gain entrance—and rob her blind. Or say that someone works in a confidential role for the government, that employees of another government gain entrance by trickery, and, e.g., installs smoke detectors with surveillance equipment, which later leads to a security breach. Again, the possibilities for abuse are endless.

Excursion on deliveries:
Something similar applies to deliveries, if with a greater possibility to avoid the hassle (no-one is obligated to order something; everyone is obligated to allow smoke-detector inspections). Often, the recipient is simply told that “we will deliver at such-and-such”—and often with an absurdly long time interval that requires him to take a day or half-day of work.* (And, no, the delivery company does not always show, either.) Smaller deliveries are typically attempted (or “attempted”) without announcement and in the middle of the day, and the recipient, who naturally is not at home, is then told to go to the nearest post office or whatnot to collect in person.

*I can e.g. recall one delivery service that gave delivery as “in the morning” or “in the afternoon”, where “morning” was understood as, maybe, 7 to 14 and “afternoon” as 10 to 17.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 2, 2022 at 10:00 pm

Nazis X: The worst damage done by the Nazis / my motivations

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After the extensive discussion of the 25-point plan, I am understandably a little tired of the topic, and will likely not resume my (main) work until late next week.

In the meantime, a few words on my motivations and a shortened version of a text that I have long had in mind (independent of the current text series):

Over time, I have grown to suspect that the three (see below) worst effects of Nazi-Germany include neither WWII, per se, nor the Holocaust. Both were horrifying, no doubt, but they were, from a historical perspective, very limited in time. Negative side-effects are lasting far longer and are likely to either already have accumulated a greater damage to the world, or to do so in due time. A significant motivation behind this text series is to combat the second, with a chance of a positive side-effect on the third. (The first is mostly gone, but still lasted far longer than e.g. WWII.)

  1. The destruction of Nazi-Germany left the door open for the Soviets to conquer half of Europe—and to keep this empire for over four decades. This extended the destructive reign of Communism geographically and likely, within the Soviet Union, temporally. The greater importance of the Soviet Union then lead to problems like a higher military spending and a further popularity of Communism as a (perceived) alternative to Capitalism.* To boot, the related Japanese loss in the Pacific might well have increased the likelihood of the Communist takeover of China.**

    *To some degree reflected in my native Sweden, e.g. in that the Swedish Communists looked less like idiots, and in that the Social-Democrats could push that “Third Way” with some plausibility. However, the main effect was likely seen in poorer and less educated countries.

    **Which is not to trivialize the evils performed by the Japanese in China, or their possible extension with another war outcome or absent a war. I would still be surprised if the expectation value of “Japanese damage” vs. “Communist damage” was higher: the Japanese were merely building an empire, no matter how ruthlessly, not forcing a destructive ideology and a broken system onto the people by any means necessary; and a Japanese–Soviet conflict, like a (non-WWII; cf. below) German–Soviet conflict, could have been beneficial to the world.

    This is the more tragic, as Hitler was in part motivated by a wish to strengthen Germany to avoid a division of the world into the Anglo-American/Capitalist and Soviet/Communist camps.* Had he been successful, the West might have been able to relax while the two great evils, Nazism and Communism, slugged it out, or Germany might have proven a useful temporary ally in the defeat of the Soviets. (The latter scenario, to some approximation, reflects what did happen, but with the Soviets and Germany switched around.) In effect, Hitler managed to create the scenario that he wanted to prevent—a weak Germany squeezed between two foreign superpowers.

    *Going by my vague and 2010 (?) recollections of “Mein Kampf”.

    (As a counterpoint to the above, there is a strong possibility that the strength of the Soviet Union slowed the build-up of Communist and/or Marxist sympathies in e.g. the U.S.)

  2. The Nazis, especially in combination with the erroneous classification of them as “Right-wing” and the Leftist tactic of guilt by association, have given the Left endless ammunition for unfair attacks against its opponents, and has often allowed it to occupy an entirely undeserved moral high-ground. Suggest X and you are a Nazi. Identify as Right-wing and you are a Nazi (or evil, because the Nazis were evil and Right-wing). Suggest something nationalistic and you are suspected of wanting to invade Poland. Etc. Etc. Etc. (As I have noted in the past, evil is never more dangerous than when it has the guise of good—and anti-Nazi propaganda has done much to distort the popular view of the Left.)

    This to a large part, because war propaganda demanded that everyone condemn and keep condemning the Nazis, and because the Nazis became ingrained as the enemy through countless WWII movies and whatnots.

    Moreover, and in contrast, Communism and, if to a lesser degree, other Leftist variations could benefit from the war propaganda and other consequences. For most of WWII, a message of “Uncle Joe is our friend and ally” was present, and even after the war it took time for a saner message to be established. Most Leftist groups in Germany and the occupied countries could draw on the claim that they had fought* against the Nazis—“we” must be the good guys, “we” won, you can thank “us”, “we” were more farsighted than “you”, etc.** Then there are all those Leftist martyrs, many or most of whom might have been no more worthy of admiration than Horst Wessel.

    *Sometimes, literally; sometimes, through protests in the open; sometimes, through protests among themselves. The difference is likely of little importance, once propaganda replaces memory.

    **Likely fallacies throughout. For instance, that some Communists or Social-Democrats fought the Nazis in the streets during the Weimar Republic does not automatically make them good guys. They also fought each other in the street. From another perspective, if members of the Russian mob attack a Colombian drug syndicate, neither of the two become police organizations.

  3. The Nazis gave everything relating to eugenics, evolutionary forces relating to humans, “human biodiversity”, whatnot a bad name. Indeed, even attempting to bring such to discussion can often lead to a blanket accusation of being a Nazi or a “Social-Darwinist” (a phrase almost as deplored today as “Nazi”)—unless the accusation is racism or, worse, “scientific racism” (even closer to “Nazi” than “Social-Darwinist” is).

    This is the worse as there are strong signs of a current and damaging dysgenic pressure which risks the long-term prosperity of humanity; as it favors race-based policies that are very costly and virtually doomed to fail;* and as it ignores the individual’s characteristics, talents, limitations, whatnot. The last e.g. through applying one-size-fits-all schooling and expecting everyone to come out equally bright and productive or through denying the possibility** that other aspects than social influences can lead to a criminal career. (No, the Nazis might not have been better in these regards. This does not alter the fact that they ruined public opinion for much more enlightened groups.)

    *Cf. the constant fiascos in the U.S. relating to e.g. affirmative action and inner-city schooling; and note “The Bell-Curve”. Of course, this issue could to some degree be seen as a special case of the following issue. Both overlap strongly with “blank-slateism”—which was scientifically outdated already in the 1970s and where we now have half-a-century of additional, too often ignored, evidence against it.

    **Note the importance of this denial: it would have been wrong, until very firm proof were present, even had social influences truly been the only major cause.

Excursion on the greater and lesser evil:
I do consider Nazi-Germany a lesser evil than the Soviets, respectively Nazis a lesser evil than Communists. This with an eye on at least three things: (a) The Nazis-at-peace were less harmful to their own population than the Communists under e.g. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. (b) The likelihood of a peaceful and/or early unseating of the Nazis seems more likely, especially once Hitler died or retired.* (c) Even the Holocaust was matched by similar atrocities by Communist regimes, notably, again, under Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

*Which would have happened before the fall of the Soviet Union (let alone the still-standing Communist China), and likely by a very considerable margin—he was born in 1889 and not overly healthy.

But what about WWII? Here it is important to remember that much of what happened was not according to Hitler’s plans. He is still, of course, to blame, but his plans were directed at easy success eastwards and/or in the colonial world. The immense scope of the war, the immense number of deaths, the immense destruction, whatnot were never intended. He only fought the Brits and the French (later, the Yanks), because they declared war on him—and he would very much have preferred not to fight that war. Occupying the Benelux and half of France? Not part of the pre-war plans. Occupying Denmark and Norway? Not part of the pre-war plans.* Bombing London? Not part of the pre-war plans. Attacking the Soviets? Very different story—but the length of the campaign (not to mention losing) was not according to pre-war plans. Superior German forces fighting on a single front were supposed to win (comparatively) easily.

*Indeed, I have heard claimed that Germany barely preempted an Allied invasion of these two countries…

Excursion on a pre-war stop:
When it comes to hypothetical scenarios, I find the constant “What if the Axis had won WWII?” boring. For something more interesting, consider e.g. “What if Hitler was murdered before invading Poland?” or “What if Hitler ignored Poland and the Soviets and went colony hunting?”. These are, of course, unknowables, but the 20th century might have looked very different, and there is a fair chance that Hitler, himself, would have been remembered more like a 20th century Bismarck or Friedrich der Große than as a counterpart to the likes of, again, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.* (Also note an earlier text on The complication of the untested evil-doer, where we do have a failed test for Hitler, but might have had an untested Hitler in this alternate reality.)

*With some reservations for what degree of Holocaust would have taken place—another unknowable.

Excursion on the importance of the Normandy landing:
The Normandy landing (and the Allied invasion of Italy) was not that important in defeating the Nazis—chances are that their days were counted and/or that Germany could only have saved it self by withdrawing from France to concentrate on the Soviets. Its true importance lies in saving important portions of Europe from the Soviets.

How much more the Soviets would have taken, if left to their own devices, is unclear, and might depend on issues like remaining motivation and length of supply lines. However, they would almost certainly have gobbled up all of “West-Germany” (possibly, excepting some token areas for the French); and it is very conceivable that they would have taken Austria and Italy, too. Some further countries, including Finland, might well have been at risk.*

*I am a uncertain why they did not take Finland even as is. Maybe, Finland had proven to expensive; maybe, too many troops had to be left on the continent to balance the other Allied powers; maybe, a renewed war would have looked bad; …

In a next step, after a few years of rest, it is not impossible that the Soviets would have tried to sweep the rest of continental Europe + (Finland/)Sweden/Norway, maybe helped by portions of the strong French Left and revenge-hungry Spanish Leftists. A highly weakened Britain, without U.S. help, could hardly have stopped them.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 25, 2022 at 11:13 pm

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Addenda to earlier texts

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Two addenda:

In [1], I speak of a fetus being connected to the mother by the umbilical cord. Strictly speaking, the umbilical cord connects fetus and placenta, with the placenta having an interface (or whatever term might be used) to the mother. In my case, I spoke without thinking the situation through; in the case of some others, there might be a genuine belief in the umbilical cord as a direct physical connection, similar to how the esophagus (and many other “pipes” and “cables” in the human body) is firmly attached at both ends,* and unlike how a pipe in a plumbing installation or an electric cable typically will be detachable on one or both ends. If so, it would go some way to explain the discussed misconception of the fetus as an actual part of the mother’s body. (Maybe, in that only the severing of the umbilical cord would create a physical separation, like the surgical separation of two Siamese twins. See excursion.)

*Indeed, with an eye at developmental history, the esophagus might be seen as part of a single long piece of plumbing, from mouth to anus, with a mere differentiation in role along the way. However, this does not affect the analogy.

In [2], I note that the West shut down access to Russian news-media over the Ukraine situation, with the implication of a wish to censor Russian war reporting and Russian perspectives on the war. There might, however, be something else behind it: I have visited the German web-edition of RT once or twice a week since the blockade began,*/** and have noted a considerable amount of non-war news and opinion contrary to what the German government likes to see. This includes critical takes on the German handling of COVID and on German energy policies. Maybe, the true reason is a wish to silence external critics of the German and other Western regimes? That the likes of RT might have broken through the one-sided, one-voiced, partisan messaging with an alternative take? (The war was then only a welcome excuse for the shutdown.)

*There are replacements sites and I use the tor network for most of my surfing, which makes the blockade easy to circumvent. I will not mention an explicit site, to avoid any anti-democratic or anti-rechtsstaatliche repercussions; however, finding one over an Internet search is likely easy.

**As I noted in some earlier text, the very fact of the blockade made me curious—Streisand effect.

Excursion on Siamese twins:
Siamese twins provide two other angles of attack against the “my body, my choice” idiocy. Firstly, even Siamese twins are typically* two adjoined bodies—not one shared body. Sometimes, the join might be extensive; sometimes, small and shallow. Sometimes, the one twin might depend on organs from the other; sometimes, they are independent. Even should umbilical-cord-is-a-fix-connection thinking be correct, it would be absurd to speak of the fetus as part of the mother, as, by implication, the one Siamese twin would a fortiori be part of the other.** Secondly, by applying “my body, my choice”, we could have situations like one twin committing suicide and taking the other, still wanting to live, with him.

*Maybe, always. I would need to research this more in depth. If, for instance, they are separate from the hips up, but have only one pair of legs and whatnots, is the lower body strictly shared—or is it more accurately viewed as belonging to one of the twins, with the other being legless and adjoined? In contrast, two fully formed bodies that just happen to stick together at the hips is clearly different from each other.

**With another complication of who is the “true” person and who the mere part.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 24, 2022 at 3:11 am

Germany not free from COVID-restrictions, after all / Follow-up: More on my current situation (and complaints about politicians)

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A month ago, I wrote:

Yesterday, I read that Germany was finally caving and beginning to lift its destructive and scientifically unfounded restrictions of various kinds. This with the likely additional implication (knock on wood; there was no explicit mention) that the threatened forced vaccinations would be off the table for the time being.

Come Sunday (20th March), in a mere two days, things should have been almost back to normal, after a prolonged phase-out. This appears to not be the case anymore, as the individual states/Bundesländer have the option to use stricter guidelines—and have often chosen to do so. This includes, unfortunately, the state, NRW, in which I live. (And, as always, there is no direct information to the citizens, who have to search for information about what applies or does not apply at any given time.)

As I wrote close to a year ago:

[…] if the [German] federation does not screw something up, count on the Bundesländer to do so; if the Bundesländer do not, count on the municipalities.

To make matters worse, forced vaccinations are still on the table and currently under debate in the German parliament—this despite the current state of scientific knowledge and despite even Austria having backed off. The matter is further complicated/made the more absurd by a timeline that puts the beginning of these vaccinations (in my understanding and should they be decided) at some point in the autumn, when we might have a completely different situation in terms of COVID, vaccines, and/or knowledge of COVID and vaccines.

I am, in fact, contemplating outright leaving Germany, my home for close to 25 years—and have had this contemplation on and off for a long time. The problem? Where should I go? Too many of the obvious candidates in Western Europe and North America have proved themselves highly problematic too. Eastern Europe might be an option, but I do not know the languages and there are a great many uncertainties involved, which might require months of research. (The same applies to most of the non-Western world, while Australia and New Zealand, if anything, appear to be worse than Germany.) Back to Sweden? Maybe; however, while it has handled COVID much better, we still have the extreme dominance of PC and Feminist politics and propaganda.

Nevertheless, Germany has again and again, even before COVID, proven it self to not be a Rechtsstaat and its standing even as a democracy is extremely weak. Moreover, year by year, it has gone further and further towards the Left, forcing me to repeat my observation that today’s Germany has more in common with the DDR of the 1980s than with the BRD of that era. And to imagine that I once left Sweden partially to get away from the Left-dominated politics … Germany, at least, has the advantage that the Left is still tilted a bit more towards the “old” Left (compared to e.g. Sweden)—but how long will that last with the current trends?

(The old Left might be economically naive, entrenched in class thinking and the class-over-the-individual attitude, whatnot; however, the new Left is just insanity from beginning to end.)

The simple truth is that the world is in need of a Great Reset—in very dire need. The Great Reset actually being pushed by the likes of Klaus Schwab, however, is in many ways the exact opposite of what is needed, a taking of old misdevelopments and pushing them yet a few steps further, when a proper reset would push them back.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 18, 2022 at 7:35 pm

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German news and dubious COVID reporting

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A particular annoying type of misreporting, whether it be through incompetence or in a deliberate attempt to mislead (both are highly possible):

Day after day after day, the video-text of ARD claims

Damit erhöht sich die Zahl der gemeldeten Todesfälle binnen eines Tages auf x*.

Translation:

Thus, the number of reported deaths increases to x* within one day.

*Where x is the accumulated number through the entire pandemic (in Germany). Today, x was 105.506.

The intended statement is that, factoring in the reported deaths since yesterday*, we now have an accumulated total for the pandemic (in Germany) of x—counting since early 2020.

*Exactly what values are compared is, more understandably than below, unclear, as there is both an issue with delays in reporting of deaths and a delay between the establishment of these numbers and the publication in video-text—and a further delay before they reach the reader.

Then, why “within one day”?!?!?

At best, it is redundant; at worst, it can lead weak readers* and thinkers and/or those who have an insufficient knowledge of the actual death rate to believe that we had 105.506 deaths (or death reports) within that one day. To this I note (a) that there is an enormous amount of panic making; (b) that I have seen at least one study, in which many overestimate the deaths from COVID enormously;** (c) that the great intellectual limits on the average citizens is a recurring topic in my writings.

*In fact, the formulation is so idiotic that I would consider the reader justified in his interpretation, were that sentence the sum of the reporting. (Which, fortunately, it is not.)

**Maybe by a factor ten or hundred—I am vague on the details. However, with such misestimates, is there any wonder that many are in a state of panic and/or accept the gravest civic-rights violations and a destroyed economy to fight COVID? Indeed, if such numbers were true, my own writings on the topic would be very different, and I might well have been the first in line for a vaccine shot.

There might even be a risk that those who do know better are susceptible to a subconscious distortion, becoming used to associate the overall number with a single day.

Note that any of this would be damaging even if only a small minority is mislead.

If we assume that the formulation is a deliberate attempt to mislead, it is a particularly perfidious one, as there is perfect deniability. Accuse ARD of an ethics violation? Pointless, as it can always hide behind a claim of ambiguity, the overall text, and a (naive or dishonest) claim that “we think more highly than that of our readers”.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 11, 2021 at 9:37 am

Vaccines, myself, and defamatory politicians

with 5 comments

The COVID situation in Germany, as in much of the world, is deteriorating disastrously. I am, of course, speaking of the countermeasures—not the disease.

Consider:

  1. The unvaccinated are slandered and libeled in a horrifying manner, including claims that they would ignore science, be a danger to themselves and others, and prevent the defeat of COVID. Then there is that “pandemic of the unvaccinated” … Most recently, decisions have been made to bar the unvaccinated from almost everywhere. Grocery stores are still allowed, but that too might change over time.

    Indeed, looking at recent claims and the sheer strength of rhetoric, a good case for e.g. Volksverhetzung could be made, except that the corresponding German law is one of the many that should have been written to be generically applicable, but, in fact, are limited to a fix enumeration (in this case, of groups or types of groups). Corresponding claims about e.g. Jews would have been extremely problematic. (“You only have to wear masks because the Jews could infect you!”, “We have a pandemic of Jews!”, etc. Goebbels would be right at home.)

    Speaking for myself, I am unvaccinated, largely and originally, because I have never, ever received any type of information or notification on how to proceed or even when it would be appropriate to do so. On the contrary, early (sensible) claims were that those not in a risk group should be responsible and remain unvaccinated, to allow the vaccine doses to go to risk groups first. With no clear delineation or clear statement from the government, the governmental and press attitudes have gradually, over the space of roughly one year, changed to “the unvaccinated are evil”. (Remember that boiling frog?)

    And, no, being called evil, stupid, uninformed, whatnot, is not something that will increase my likelihood of taking a vaccine. A clear “we now recommend that persons 45–50 contact a physician to be vaccinated”, on the other hand, might have. For the record, I am extremely intelligent and educated, far above the typical German MP or journalist, and I am considerably above average in the extent of my readings on specifically COVID. Politicians seem to have an image of mouth-breathers who have never made it further than the cartoons or the sports section in the news-paper, but this image does not in the least match what I have seen on the Internet—and it is as far from me that one can get.

    The claims about science and being a danger to others, etc., are simply incorrect. (Cf. below.)

  2. There is considerable uncertainty about the both the effectiveness and the safety of the current vaccines, and there is a very strong possibility that those not in a risk group would (statistically and on average) worsen their health outcomes by taking the vaccine.

    Unfortunately, making an objective judgment on this point is near impossible, because the “official line” is supported more with rhetoric than with facts and reasoning—including the constant “Fake news! Fakes news!” to quash any actual debate. Well, decades of experience has taught me to trust the party that tries to bring arguments and debate over the party that quashes debate. (Something which applies to much of the rest of this text.)

  3. Similarly, there are considerable concerns that those who take a vaccine before having had COVID see a long-term reduction in their ability to counter future infections (relative those who have had COVID before, or instead of, the vaccine) through original antigenic sin.

    Of course, the apparent constant need for boosters increase the risk from (and cost of) the vaccines greatly, while pointing to the poor long-term protection.

    For those in a risk group, this is not much of a concern, because COVID now could kill them, and the risk of COVID in twenty or forty years might be academic. For someone like me, this is different: I am very likely better off taking a COVID infection at 47 and having the strong immune system to survive renewed attacks at 67 and 87, than to take the vaccine and possibly die of COVID when I have grown old and am a member of a risk group.

    Again, 47 and no known other risk factors, outside a little too much fat. My risk of death, here and now, is minuscule. In the future? Who knows.

    Then there is the question of future vaccines: So far, vaccines have been poor, but newer and better ones, with more conventional characteristics, unsurprisingly, appear to be in development. What if I e.g. get a shitty vaccine today, or am forced to take one in a few months, when a good one would have been available a little later? (And would the first injection only have been an unnecessary cost and risk, or would the original antigenic sin sabotage the newer and better vaccine?)

  4. But my health is only half the equation. What about my possible effect as an infector of others? A possible source of new mutations? Etc.

    Firstly, I would pose an even smaller risk after COVID than after a vaccine, which points to a natural infection being a solid option, even from the point of view of society.

    Secondly, the point of herd immunity is that not everyone need be vaccinated or otherwise immunized. (And note that the COVID vaccines fall well short of the normal bar for vaccine efficiency.) For instance, Wikipedia on R0 currently gives a herd immunity threshold of 80-88 % for the “Delta variant”. (And, knowing how the misinformation works, I would not be surprised to see the true number being considerably lower. However, even 80–88 is enough to make e.g. a “100 % vaccinated” demand overkill.)

    Here, of course, we have to understand that we are invariably heading for a herd-immunity and/or endemic COVID scenario. Exterminating COVID is a pipe-dream—and will remain so for the foreseeable future. (Have we exterminated the flu? No.) The only alternative, cf. original antigenic sin, is that herd immunity fails through the too weak vaccines …

    Thirdly, there are strong signs that it is actually the vaccinated (alone or in combination with lockdowns and whatnot) who pose the real risk of new and dangerous mutations and/or allow dangerous mutations a chance, through mechanisms like “leaky vaccines”. This maybe to the point that the unvaccinated would have been fine as unvaccinated—had it not been for the vaccinated and their distortion of the natural development of COVID. (This is a point where we might have to wait and see, before we can tell for certain, and where the ability to make good predictions has been particularly hampered by the lack of debate.)

  5. Contrary to claims by e.g. German politicians, we do not have a pandemic of the unvaccinated—unless being unvaccinated, per se, should be seen as a disease. Every time that I have seen statistics, it has amounted to “roughly the same proportions of vaccinated as unvaccinated fall victim”, “more vaccinated than unvaccinated have fallen victim”, or similar.

    True, there might often be circumstances that make a direct comparison misleading, like the vaccinated (still!) belonging to risk groups more often than the unvaccinated, but not to such a degree that a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” can be justified. Moreover, without a scientific debate, we can neither know whether such mitigating circumstances have a truly major or only a marginal effect. In particular, I have yet to see a serious attempt to quantify such effects. (Not that the attempt would necessarily be successful, but the lack of even an attempt is disturbing.) What we have now is comparable to “many athletes have far larger stresses on their knees than non-athletes, and are more susceptible to knee injuries” vs “but their stronger leg muscles help to protect their knees”, which leaves far too much up in the air.

  6. A particular failure of e.g. politicians, often used exactly to push for more vaccinations, is the implicit combination of characteristics from different variants of the virus. For instance, the new omicron variant seems to be more virulent than the prior variants–but also less dangerous. (With reservations for its recency and lack of accumulated knowledge.) The politicians, however, just argue based on the virulence and assume the same amount of problems (deaths, hospitalizations, whatnot) as for other variants. The result is an extremely misleading image of ever more dangerous versions of COVID, while the (entirely expected!) trend has been towards more virulence but less severe problems.

    As I have said before, the “common cold strategy” is very strong; the “Ebola strategy” is very weak. Evolution is expected to make, and so far has made, COVID more virulent but less dangerous—more like a regular flu or, even, common cold. Unless the lockdowns and the vaccinated get in the way of evolution, COVID is expected to resolve it self.

    (As a clarification: My remarks on Ebola refer to its behavior in humans. In other animals, e.g. IIRC dogs, it is less deadly and can have an endemic status.)

Excursion on my having or not having had COVID:
I have not been diagnosed with COVID at any point (and I have written the above under the “not” assumption). However, combining the often weak symptoms and the repeated colds or cold-like diseases that I have had during the COVID era, I strongly suspect that I have already had it.

Excursion on information on policy:
The issue of information on policy has been highly problematic and by no means restricted to “when should I get vaccinated”. Policy decisions have often been made from one day to another; have never been communicated directly to the people, who have to rely on the news to stay informed; the news is often incomplete or contradictory; the (overall) policy has often had multiple actors with different restrictions, e.g. on the federal, state, and municipal level; and the policy has often contained conditions depending on (constantly changing and hard to find) numbers, like the infection rate per 100.000 persons in the local community.

Indeed, I have on repeated occasions received the first warning that something new was happening from an English language source, like The Daily Sceptic, rather than the German sources …

Written by michaeleriksson

December 3, 2021 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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