If Trump Wants To Get Tough With Germany, Learn How They Do It

I realize Trump’s style is to blow off steam without any substantive understanding of the issues, but let’s play a little game. What if he seriously wanted to attack the trade gap between Germany and the United States? He would learn about how the Germans have organized themselves and imitate as much of it as possible.

For starters, Germany has 69¬†Fraunhofer¬†institutes that are dedicated to specific technologies. They create partnerships between academic researchers and companies that might be able to commercialize ideas. We don’t have anything like them in the United States because, I suppose, they reek of “industrial policy,” which is a bad word in the minds of many free-marketers. But they are highly effective at keeping German companies on the cutting edge of technology.

Small and mid-sized German companies, collectively referred to as the Mittelstand, are organized. They all belong to industry associations and/or chambers of commerce. Membership is mandatory. These organizations provide a highly useful tool in linking Mittelstand companies to markets around the world. We have the U.S. Department of Commerce but our export-promotion infrastructure is fragmented. This is something else the Germans get right.

Then there is the German system of apprenticeships. They put kids on certain tracks where they obtain trade skills and exposure to the company or companies where they might work after graduation. That happens in the United States, but only in a relatively modest number of cases. Our system for educating people to work in manufacturing, for example, is in disrepair.

Add in the fact that most Germans speak multiple languages and you have a really well-organized economy that is world-class competitive. If Trump were ever to get serious about Germany, he would help Americans learn how to compete against them.

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