Germans - Economy

Industry and Trade. The tradition of urban handicrafts and riverine commerce, large and readily available coal deposits, and economic and political union all contributed to the dramatically successful industrialization of the Rhine-Ruhr region and the Elbe River valley in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Following World War II, West Germany again emerged as one of the strongest economies of the West European industrial core. East Germany's socialist economy was successful by Eastern bloc standards, but it crumbled when it was incorporated into the West German market. In the last decade of the twentieth century, the new federal states of the east face wholesale rebuilding. Germans describe their economy as a "social market," where the welfare state ameliorates the extreme effects of competitive private enterprise. Automobiles, aircraft, chemicals, machine tools, and optical and electronic equipment are among the most Important products of Germany's export-oriented economy. German industry is distinguished by long-range planning; cooperation between private enterprise, government, banks, and unions; and a highly skilled work force. In the postwar period, West Germany has traded primarily with European Community partners and NATO allies, but the reunited Germany is renewing traditional trade relationships with eastern Europe and the peoples of the former Soviet Union.

Agriculture and Land Tenure. In Germany, the reform of feudal land tenure was not completed until the late nineteenth century. East of the Elbe, where Prussian nobles had managed large estates, reform resulted in the creation of a landless rural proletariat. Peasants of the highly subdivided southwest were often forced to migrate either to the cities or overseas, though some became owners of small farms. The free northern peasantry was most successful in making the transition from feudal obligations to private ownership, though here too expropriation and consolidation were Common. The Nazis espoused an agrarian ideology, but the trend toward industrialization and rural depopulation continued. The southwestern and northern zones now lie in former West Germany, where 5 percent of the work force is employed on privately owned farms averaging just 16 hectares. Under the now defunct East German regime, the Prussian estates were transformed into large-scale, state-run agricultural enterprises, which employed 11 percent of the work force. In both regions, further reduction in agricultural production may be anticipated, since the state subsidies that sustained it have been withdrawn or are under attack.

Division of Labor. Germany's work force includes laborers, entrepreneurs, clerical workers and other employees, managers and administrators, and professionals. Class Membership is determined partly through education and Individual ability and partly through family background. German labor is represented by well-organized and aggressive unions, which, however, often cooperate with capital and the state in long-range economic planning. German women are accorded equality in the workplace de jure, though equal pay, child care, maternity benefits, and abortion are still subjects of debate and shifting legislation.

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