Lessons from Germany: How to overcome the fear of freeloaders

Romney’s most recent statement that Obama won by offering "gifts" to African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters reminds us all of his now infamous 47% comments. But it also reminds me of something else: the Republican fear of freeloaders.

Freeloaders, as conservatives view them, include many types of people, not just those who for example don’t have a disability but figure a way to get disability benefits. It also includes people who have a hard time finding a job and collect unemployment benefits. It includes low income women who have children they can’t take care of and collect welfare benefits, and many other people who get help from the government.

When I was fifteen I traveled from Peru, where I grew up, to Germany, to visit my godmother. I marveled at the sight of the clean and organized cities, perfectly build roads, bridges and buildings, the orderly traffic, and the visible lack of poor people. At some point during my visit, I spotted with great surprise two shabby dressed men who appeared to be homeless because they were sitting on the sidewalk. I exclaimed: “Look, you have poor people too!”

My wealthy godmother replied with indignation something like this:

    “No, those men are not poor, we (here in Germany) pay a lot of taxes so that nobody will go without food or without a roof over their head, so that everybody will have an opportunity to get ahead in their life. These men are there because they choose to be there.”

There was obvious anger in her voice about having to pay high taxes, but there was also something else there, that seems to never occur to a Republican: pride in a country that takes care of all its citizens.

Lesson #1: To overcome the hate or fear of freeloaders, imagine how proud you would feel, that with your help, your country is able to look after everybody. If that means that some people will abuse the system, so be it; there will always be people who do that.

But why do Republicans focus so much of their attention on those who “milk the system” by receiving entitlement benefits or “gifts” as Romney calls them?

Where is the outrage about those large and wealthy corporation who ship jobs oversees and “milk the system” to avoid paying millions in taxes? Where is the outrage about big oil corporations that “milk the system” by receiving government subsidies and using loopholes to avoid paying taxes?

Germany has a very strict tax system that most German companies obey, but as recently as this November, Germany is teaming up with the UK to close the “profit-shifting” loophole on multinational companies who make business in Europe. Which companies? Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks. American companies.

Lesson #2: Transform that hate or fear of freeloaders into outrage at seeing big corporations and wealthy individuals play the system and withhold billions in revenue that could help lower the debt.

In an ideal world where there are no physical or mental disabilities, where every child is born to a decent, two-parent family and community with strong role models and ethical values, a pure meritocracy is appealing. In the real world, it doesn't work as well.

Eliminating safety nets, benefits or “gifts” as Romney calls it, is not the solution. The solution is to have a competent government that takes care of everybody, while ensuring that as few people as possible abuse the system, and that should include the wealthy.

Lesson #3: Think positive. Think how strong a country can become when it gives a chance to everybody to make it in life. Just look at Germany, who offers very low-cost, free education, health care and other benefits for all. If a small country like Germany can do it, don’t you think the US can do it too?

I have always wondered where that fear, obsession and disgust with “freeloaders”, “mooches”  and “leeches” comes from ( I found those terms in the comment section of this article). My guess is that people who have a strong sense of responsibility with regards to work and family, but also struggle with this responsibility, with work that is tenuous, with fatigue and long hours at jobs that are not as fulfilling even if they are well remunerated often resent those who don’t take their responsibilities as seriously as they do.

Lesson #4: To overcome the hate or fear of freeloaders, relax a bit, it’s okay to relax, take a long vacation. Look at Germany, they have 6 weeks vacation a year and the strongest economy in Europe.

I look at my liberal friends, some of whom are artists and musicians who make a good living off their careers, but because they enjoy what they do, I never hear nor could fathom them complaining about people who don’t work hard enough. Even some successful billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet share that compassionate view about helping people in need without the anger or fear that people will be taking advantage of their generosity. My take is that these people work hard but enjoy what they do, and because they know they are privileged to be in that position, they don’t hold it against anyone else or judge others who are not as capable of making an earning and taking care of themselves. 

Lesson #5: This is not a German lesson, but a human lesson. Feel grateful and privileged of your circumstances and upbringing. Feel grateful and privileged that you are not that person begging on a street for money and focus on finding ways to enjoy your job and life a bit more. If you are happy, you will want everybody to be happy.


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6 comments to Lessons from Germany: How to overcome the fear of freeloaders

  • BC

    Wow – you are going to get a long answer.  LOL  Actually very well written and I will share my two cents/caveats.
    Logically the most stable society is where the maximum amount of people participate fairly in commerce.  This is not to advocate mindless materialism rather people need to earn a living and commerce is how this happens.
    Morally it is the right thing to do.  Given our advanced state of technology and connectedness we have no choice but to take care of everyone or we will regress and have to start over, which would be a shame because as we start to travel through space we will be learning so many interesting things.
    To achieve this entails lessening fear from which most if not all bad emotions and behaviors spring.  While not easy it's doable and happens one person at a time and in situations of duress it can happen quite rapidly.
    The first step is to compromise and lessen the polarization.  Just take a look at Fox, CNN, MSNBC – they're all pushing narratives that increase polarization with the intent of dividing us so that hidden interests get their way.
    Thought is energy and quite powerful at that so when Fox or MSNBC gets one up in a tizzy your energy is being stolen or more importantly focused in the wrong direction and negatively so.  So step away from your television.  LOL

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    • itaest

      Thanks for liking my article. You are saying a lot of good things here too, such as "Morally it is the right thing to do." and "To achieve this entails lessening fear from which most if not all bad emotions and behaviors spring". (Reminds me of something I heard in my meditation audiobook)

      As for MSNBC, you know Fox News came first, and it's not gonna go away, so the only way to create balance is to have the opposite of Fox News, which does not even exist because it would be a channel that tells Liberal lies.

      MSNBC does not do that. It tells the truth and sticks to the facts but expresses liberal opinions. I am happy that there is an MSNBC to show us the other side of the coin.

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      • BC

        Well I have more to say on your article – just was too tired last night.
        I think the better balance would be news channels in the middle not wed to either party, but I'm probably dreaming on this one and for now don't think either Fox or MSNBC will go away.  I do think though that there is a big market for a TV station in the middle.
        Both Fox and MSNBC lie and misdirect, but both also tell the truth on issues.  And this isn't the point rather they are both helping to increase already severe polarization that exists in the country, which is not helpful for the required compromise.
        I think we are in big trouble without compromise and 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. 
        Simpson and Bowles were interviewed on CNBC this week talking about their plan to fix the debt issue/economy.  Where I find it interesting is they believe in shared scarifice.  You will like some of what they say and you will not like other stuff.
        I would be curious to get your opinion on this.
        http://www.cnbc.com/id/49710830  (this is the transcript).
        This is the video, but they have broken it into parts.  http://www.cnbc.com/id/15838421/pgn/3/
        Here is the first video.     http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000129646&play=1

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  • BC

    I have a lot more to say here, but what you have written is really making me think and I don't have answers yet.
    I would like to explain why I think you will have opposition and how this is overcome.  And overcoming it may include not delivering everything you want.

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