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Gütersloh, 08/02/2010

Study: Trust in Germany's social market economy increases

Bertelsmann Stiftung ascribes cause to balanced response by Germany's policymakers during economic crisis

Graphic: Trust increases once again
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Graphic: Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Germany's social market economy?
Source: Allensbacher Archiv

The trust Germans place in the country’s social market economy has risen once again. A study carried out by the Allensbach research institute on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung reveals a reversal in the trend toward lower levels of trust, a decline that has been ongoing for many years: While 55 percent of the German population still believed in the country’s economic system in 2000, in spring of 2008 that figure had fallen to 31 percent. By the beginning of this year, however, it had risen to 38 percent once again.

Dr. Gunter Thielen, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, ascribes the positive shift largely to the balanced reaction of the country's policymakers during the first phase of the global financial and economic crisis, noting that the promise made by the chancellor and finance minister – guaranteeing that the country’s savings were safe – prevented mass panic. "The stimulus package, the increase in part-time positions and the efforts made by many businesses to retain jobs during the downturn have also had a positive effect," he said. "Thanks to these measures, the widespread unemployment forecast by many experts has not materialized."

Another of the survey's findings confirms the renewed trust. While 62 percent of respondents believed in 2006 that the country's economic system is "not truly social," only 49 percent now feel this is true. At the same time, the share of Germans who feel the system is indeed social rose from 24 percent in 2006 to 35 percent today. Acceptance of the country's social market economy is also fueled by the belief that there is no superior alternative, something that 43 percent of Germans agree is true. Only 15 percent feel that a better system exists.

Yet the Bertelsmann Stiftung survey also shows that the critical attitudes many people have persist in terms of how social goods are distributed in Germany, with 58 percent of respondents saying that economic conditions in the country are "not just." Those who feel that the distribution of income and wealth in Germany are indeed "just" remain a minority, even if they now make up 21 percent of the population, a slight increase from the year 2007.

The vast majority of the population (71 percent) feels that the level of social justice in Germany continued to decline over the last four years; only 4 percent of respondents believe the reverse to be true. "Almost no one believes that the state has any real options left for redistributing social goods, given the massive debt it had to take on to overcome the economic crisis," Thielen says, explaining the finding.   

When participants in the survey were asked which of nine countries promoted social justice in a manner closest with their own views, Sweden continued to be chosen most often, by 27 percent of the respondents in this year's survey. Yet this figure, too, is clearly not as high as in the past. Germany, in turn, significantly improved its standing, being named by 19 percent of those queried (2007: 5 percent), making it the second most-chosen country. Despite ongoing doubts about the level of social justice present in Germany, the survey thus shows that attitudes toward the country's economic and social system have improved when compared internationally to its peers.

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