Thursday, January 25, 2007

Germany: Fiction vs Reality

The old adage that life is but a faint copy of art took a new twist in Germany this week as:

"Two veteran film-makers confronted Germany's troubled health care and pension systems, throwing themselves into a sensitive debate which many political leaders have shied away from."

Now, not having seen the film in question it is hard to judge the quality of the treatment or the validity of the specific points they make, but the very existence of this contemporary confrontation of life and art, of politics and fiction, and the simple fact that the filmakers are raising the issues they are in the way that they do, while far too many "reality based" politicians are ducking them, seems interesting in and of itself to me:

With governments apparently reluctant to get to grips with the political time-bombs, film-makers Regina Ziegler and Dieter Wedel are helping to force the topics into the spotlight with separate controversial television feature movies.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other politicians often talk of "demographic developments" to try to explain away problems in pensions and health care.

But the population is shrinking, health care is becoming unaffordable for some and the pension system is under-funded.

Ziegler, 62, and Wedel, 64, have used fiction to hammer home the point that Germany, once one of the world's richest nations, faces what they believe are health and pension crises.

"The political leaders are afraid to be honest," Wedel said in an interview with Reuters ahead of his February film "Mein Alter Freund Fritz" (My Old Friend Fritz) that takes a scathing look at profit-hungry hospitals and doctors.

"It's unfortunate that there is so much cowardice and ducking away from problems," added Wedel, who wrote and directed the 99-minute, 2.4 million-euro ($3.11 million) film for ZDF television.

At least someone somewhere, in their own way, is trying to get this topic straight onto the table.

Ziegler's 135-minute science-fiction film "Aufstand der Alten" (Uprising of the Old People) is a faux documentary-style production set in 2030. More than 10 million viewers saw it on ZDF last week and it sparked widespread debate in Germany.

In the film, most senior citizens are on the brink of starvation with minimal pensions and almost no health care.

A journalist played by Bettina Zimmermann is investigating the mysterious death of an elderly rebel leader and "looks back" at the uprising's roots, discovering empty promises by leaders about pensions and a failure to fix the problems in the past.

The film has upset viewers, many unable to distinguish fact from fiction. One retired political leader, Kurt Biedenkopf, said "Uprising of the Old People" is a belated wake-up call.

"If films like these were made 15 years ago, we wouldn't have wasted as much time and wouldn't now be worrying about the disaster we're heading for," said Biedenkopf, formerly a leader in Merkel's Christian Democrats and premier of Saxony state.

"A film had to first come along before enough people recognized the problem," added Biedenkopf, 76, in the Hamburger Abendblatt daily.

The ratio of workers for each pensioner is expected to fall to 1-1 in 2037 from 2-1 currently -- and 8-1 in 1957.

The population of 82 million is expected to drop to 70 million by 2050. The low birth rate means average ages are creeping up -- from 42 years currently to 50 by 2050. Data from the federal statistics office projects the number of those aged 80 and above will rise to 10 million by 2050 from 4 million.


Anonymous said...

Basically, they're misdirecting the blame. It's not doctors and bureaucrats, it's their own damned fault for not having enough kids to look after them in their old age.

Apparently Germany's welfare system encouraged everyone to think they'd get a free ride on someone _else's_ kids... and it turns out far too many people assumed that would be the case.

Anonymous said...

More generally, you should include the costs of raising at least 2 children as part of the costs of being alive.

If you don't, you're eating the future; it's quite closely parallel to a farmer eating the breeding stock and seed corn for next year.