- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Life gets real for some of our European friends. The fat comes home to roost. Fortunately, the roosts are reinforced.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has fashioned his survival at home by sneering at America and particularly at George W. and his fearless tax-cutters, yesterday ordered — please sit down while reading this — a dramatic (gasp!) tax cut.

Not a minute too soon, either. The German unemployment rate is bumping 11 percent and his constituents, their appetites no longer sated by insults and screeds at the United States, are making frightening noises.

Herr Schroeder proposes cuts modest by American standards — about 5 percent for the lowest-paid workers, about 6 percent for the highest-paid and on average about 10 percent — but the very idea is hard for socialists to swallow. They yearn for the day when the government takes it all and gives back what the pointy-headed theorists who can’t park a bicycle straight think the worker ought to have (which won’t be much).

Hard to swallow in Berlin, but delicious here on the Potomac. Herr Schroeder, trying out unaccustomed tax-cut rhetoric, sounds a lot like, umm, George W. Bush: “Ten percent less income tax means 10 percent more consumption.”

The tax cuts follow by barely a week an admonition to Germans, by their own economic minister, Wolfgang Clement, to get off their ample bottoms and get to work. He wants to cut out some holidays and increase the working hours. “With regards to holidays,” he said, “public days off and working hours, we have without a doubt reached our limit. Anyone who compares our holiday calendar with that of other countries can really start to worry.”

In fact, Germany tops Europe with freizeit, or free time. German law decrees that every worker get a full month’s vacation and 13 holidays. The minister aimed his remarks particularly at steelworkers in what used to be East Germany, where unemployment is at nearly 20 percent but the steelworkers, far from being grateful for work, are striking for a 35-hour week.

Herr Clement’s economists calculate that a modest cut in holidays or a mere one-hour increase in the workweek would boost the economy by 1.6 percent. Next year, when weekends will be expanded by several public holidays, economists expect an anemic growth rate of just half of 1 percent.

More work might or might not trim the unemployment rate and cure what ails German industry, once the standard of the world, but certain German hoteliers are exploiting the here and now. Hotels, set down in the faraway foreign sun, such as Cancun, will cater to “overweight holidaymakers.”

“Our belief is that holidays should be fun,” Jurriaan Klink (no kin of the famous Col. Klink, bane of “Hogan’s Heroes”) tells London’s Daily Telegraph. “Even for people who have to wear XXL clothes. We want larger guests and we want to make them feel welcome and not discriminated against, whether on the beach or by the pool.” The first of Mr. Klink’s XXL Club Resorts even employs flabby waiters, pudgy pool boys and pleasantly plump chambermaids to make guests feel better about themselves.

Once plopped down in Mexico, guests relax on reinforced beds on reinforced floors and bathe in oversized bathtubs. Doorways are wider than ordinary and beds measure six feet by six feet. “People with plenty of pounds like the freedom to move around, even in the bath,” he says.

Germans, like Americans, are bigger than ever. Forty percent of German adults are overweight, and so are 20 percent of German children. That’s why Mr. Klink and his Mexican partner are targeting Germany. One man’s dilemma is another man’s opportunity. “Many business sectors have awakened to the fact that people are getting larger,” he says.

Not just in Germany. Mr. Klink wanted to target American blubber, too, but in the wake of September 11, Americans, lean, mean and otherwise, have avoided airports, airplanes and resorts.

Exporting blubberbutts and their credit cards to Mexico is not exactly what Herr Schroeder has in mind, of course, and the idea of cutting taxes is such anathema to socialist doctrine that his tax cuts, which will put more than $15 billion back into workers’ pockets, is not yet a done deal. Conservatives in the parliament, no fans of supply-side economics, insist that Germany can’t afford to cut taxes even if it eventually returns more revenue to the treasury. But Herr Schroeder’s left-leaning parliamentary allies, frightened by the economic news, are persuaded that cutting fat out of the government might be less painful than cutting fat out of big Aryan bottoms. Appetizing or not, the chancellor, who may or may not fear the wurst, has to eat his words.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.


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