February 4, 2013

The Naïveté of Youth

The Naïveté of Youth (Nice way of saying clueless)
The other day Carolyn and I were eating at a local restaurant where I had the great misfortune to overhear the teen at the table behind us telling some adults (not parents...maybe Aunt & Uncle) about how swell her Exchange Student trip to Germany went and how awesome it was for her.

While I don't intend to eavesdrop I cannot help but to tune in to the sounds around me, which I attribute to old work habits.  I am getting better about tuning out crap I don't want to hear, but something about what this girl said got jammed into my ear sideways.


This girl, probably a Junior or Senior in High School, is obviously looking forward to her transition to college.  As she goes on an on about how awesome Germany is she mentions that she likes Germany because "you get to go to college for free".  Being a tuition-paying college student myself that might be interesting, but what she said next was what really got to me.

"I could see having to pay a little extra if it meant I could go to college for free."

This is the statement that has stuck in my head and makes me weep for the naïveté of youth.  Obviously this girl doesn't have a clue.  She hasn't paid any real taxes in her life and is in for a huge awakening some day.  I'm almost at a loss as where to begin.....

First off.....you don't "pay a little extra" in Germany.  Assuming her family lived in Germany, her family, and then later her, would be paying a LOT in taxes for all of their lives.  Germans are taxed by the federal government, the state, and the municipality to the tune of 43% of their income compared to 23-30% in the US.  These are rough numbers and there are a lot of factors, but these are overall generalized figures that have been normalized for specific incomes.

I'm not debating or detracting the merits of either society, but it isn't hard to prove Germany is much more socialistic than the US.  I think when you compare Germany, a population of 81 million living in an area the size of Montana and the US with its 314 million, there are going to be some huge differences.

Taxation rates are just one.

Even if we went down the road of fantasy and pretended that Germans and Americans paid the overall same tax rates it would be hard to ignore some of the other significant differences.  In the US, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.3% of 2011 High School graduates were in college.  Germany has a relatively convoluted educational system filled with trade schools, vocational education, apprenticeship programs as well as a university system.  A small minority of students attend these free universities.  Even if trends from the 70's continues (roughly doubling every decade), less than 25% of workforce had passed the necessary examinations to be able to attend university.  Undoubtedly the number that managed to attend university for free and graduate is a lesser number.

This isn't the first time I've heard a discussion along these lines.  Usually it is some pseudo-intellectual trying to sound all self-important talking about topics that they have no clue about.  This time I think it was just a clueless infatuation with a society that the individual had an opportunity to learn about, but failed to do so.

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