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But Elisabeth Jacobs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it would be difficult to change the adversarial U.S. system as long as laying off workers remains the quickest way for employers to cut costs during a recession and no legal obstacles stand in their way.

Layoffs impose considerable costs on society, she said, notably the cost of extended unemployment benefits, widening poverty and homelessness, and the expense of rehiring and retraining workers. By forcing businesses to bear more responsibility, the German system limits costs for the rest of society.

Specifically, Germany’s system of making businesses responsible for worker training prompts companies to “hoard workers” during a recession, Ms. Jacobs said, so they don’t have to pay to replace or retrain laid-off workers when the economy recovers.

While the benefits of the German approach for the broader society are clear, Dennis Nally, global chairman of PwC International business research firm, said U.S. businesses and the economy would benefit the most from a system of collaboration and training.

U.S. employers today are having trouble filling an estimated 3 million skilled jobs despite more than 10 million unemployment workers in the nation, and this is limiting their ability to grow, he said.

“The bottom line is that the private sector needs to step up in a much bigger way,” he said. “Governments don’t have the financial resources to have the impact they once had.”

Shunning compromise

Leslie H. Gelb, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that the willingness of German businesses and labor unions to set aside differences and pursue common interests in preserving jobs and profits is not the only major difference with the U.S.

The political system in the U.S. is also seemingly hostile to such collaborative solutions, he said.

“German economic policymaking is more pragmatic than partisan,” he said. German leaders embrace, for example, a combination of spending cuts along with tax hikes to reduce deficits, all the while investing in infrastructure to stimulate jobs and growth — a mixed approach that seems to be anathema in America’s polarized political system.

“U.S. leaders just might learn something from [Germany] about how to run a 21st-century industrial economy in a democracy,” Mr. Gelb said.

Clyde Prestowitz, a trade analyst at the Economic Strategy Institute, said the U.S. will have to mimic the system of collaboration in Germany if it is to avoid losing its status as the world’s most powerful economy.

“We’re in decline,” he said. “That’s obvious to everyone outside the United States and to most inside except for firm believers in American exceptionalism.”

The U.S. could easily reverse this economic decline by learning from the successes in Germany, China and other ascending countries, he said.

“Study their programs and copy them,” he said. “Anything they can do, we should be able to do as well, sometimes maybe even better.”