In a “Terribly Regulated” Germany “People Look for Their Little Spaces of Freedom”

(p. A1) BERLIN — It seemed like a no-brainer: Lower Germany’s embarrassingly high carbon emissions at no cost, and save some lives in the process.
But when a government-appointed commission in January [2019] dared to float the idea of a speed limit on the autobahn, the country’s storied highway network, it almost caused rioting.
. . .
(p. A10) Call it Germany’s Wild West: The autobahn is the one place in a highly regulated society where no rule is the rule — and that place is sacred.
. . .
Germany is woefully behind on meeting its 2020 climate goals, so the government appointed a group of experts to find ways to lower emissions in the transport sector. Cars account for 11 percent of total emissions, and their share is rising.
A highway speed limit of 120 kilometers an hour, or 75 miles per hour, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.
“Of all the individual measures, it is the one that would be the most impactful — and it costs nothing,” said Dorothee Saar, of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a nonprofit environmental organization that has lobbied for a speed limit.
. . .
Once, during the oil crisis in 1973, a German transport minister took his chances and imposed a speed limit. Road deaths stood at over 20,000 a year at the time (six times today’s level) and with oil prices skyrocketing, Lauritz Lauritzen thought Germans might reasonably see the benefits of saving some lives and some money on gas, too.
The speed limit lasted four months, and Mr. Lauritzen not much longer.
The experiment gave birth to the “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!” campaign — or “Freedom to drive for free citizens!” — the car lobby’s most powerful slogan to this day, and one used by political parties and car companies alike, a sort of unwritten second amendment.
“It’s all about freedom,” said John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, who first arrived here in the 1960s, and has been living (and driving) here on and off ever since.
. . .
“Germany is terribly regulated, for reasons which have to do with the past, with a fear of uncertainty, a fear of being overwhelmed,” Mr. Kornblum said. “But then people look for their little spaces of freedom and the autobahn is one of them.”
And speeding isn’t the only freedom the autobahn offers.
Driving naked in Germany is legal, too. But if you get out of the car nude, you face a $45 fine.

For the full story, see:
Katrin Bennhold. “Autobahn Speed Limits? Voting With Lead Feet.” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 4, 2019): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2019, and has the title “‘GERMANY DISPATCH; Impose a Speed Limit on the Autobahn? Not So Fast, Many Germans Say.”)

Government Fiscal Stimulus Does Not Speed Job Growth

DebtAndEmploymentGrowthGraph2019-02-17.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) . . . is there evidence that stimulus was behind America’s recovery–or, for that matter, the recoveries in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and Ireland? And is there evidence that the absence of stimulus–a tight rein on public spending known as “fiscal austerity”–is to blame for the lack of a full recovery in Portugal, Italy, France and Spain?
A simple test occurred to me: The stimulus story suggests that, in the years after they hit bottom, the countries that adopted relatively large fiscal deficits–measured by the average increase in public debt from 2011-17 as a percentage of gross domestic product–would have a relatively speedy recovery to show for it. Did they?
As the accompanying chart shows, the evidence does not support the stimulus story. Big deficits did not speed up recoveries. In fact, the relationship is negative, suggesting fiscal profligacy led to contraction and fiscal responsibility would have been better.

For the full commentary, see:
Phelps, Edmund. “The Fantasy of Fiscal Stimulus; It turns out Keynesian policies are correlated with slower, not faster, economic growth.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 29, 2018.)

German Bookstore Thrives Selling Bread and Sausage

(p. A7) BAD SOODEN-ALLENDORF, Germany — At five minutes after seven on a Saturday morning, the bookstore in this idyllic town was not yet officially open — that happens at 7:30 a.m. — but Susanne Frühauf had already rung up the first three customers of the day. At a shelf in the corner, behind a rack of discount paperbacks, her husband Wolfgang was working as quickly as he could.
“They’re like moths,” said Mr. Frühauf, genially, of his customers. “As soon as the lights go on, they come.”
With that, he got back to work, stacking not books, but rows of freshly baked bread rolls sprinkled with poppy, pumpkin, flax, sesame or sunflower seeds that have brought townspeople flocking. Next to him stood a small refrigerator hung with “ahle wurst” — a delicious air-dried, salami-like pork sausage that is one of the region’s culinary specialties — while in the center aisle, organic tomatoes and cucumbers vied with crime novels for table space.
. . .
Mr. Frühauf’s grandfather founded a bookbindery nearly a century ago, right here on the ground floor of the family house on the market square; Mr. Frühauf grew up above the bookstore, which his parents and uncle ran together. Five years ago, when he saw the numbers, Mr. Frühauf — who still lives upstairs, with his mother and his wife — said the situation was clear: “We had to do something.”
At the same time, news came that the town’s last two bakeries were closing. For residents like Mr. Frühauf, who remember when half a dozen local bakers strove to make the town’s best cream-covered plum cake, cumin roll or pumpernickel loaf, this blow was followed by hopeful news: Norbert Schill, who had lost his storefront lease, wanted to keep baking.
“I said, ‘before there’s no fresh bakery, I’ll clear a shelf, and we can sell the bread here,'” Mr. Frühauf said. Mr. Schill agreed to give it a try.
The experiment was a success. Mr. Frühauf began keeping baker’s hours, and Mr. Schill’s former customers started coming to the bookstore to buy their daily bread. Some, like Norbert Bergmann, a retired Catholic priest, got into the habit of picking up a book or TV guide, too.
Some of Mr. Frühauf’s regular customers found the idea strange at first, but they came around quickly. “It’s fun to eat breakfast again,” said Regina Kistner, who raised her family here, and had been making do with the processed rolls sold at the supermarket. “These taste good,” she added, leaving the store with two rolls (one rye and one sesame), a tabloid paper (for her neighbor) and the British romance novel “A Summer at Sea.”
Mr. Schill, the baker, said he for one was very happy to have found such an open-minded partner in the bookseller. “There’s a saying, I remember learning as a child, from the old people. ‘Go with the times, or with time, you’ll go.'”
. . .
Locking up after a long, warm morning, Mr. Frühauf paused. He took a look around at the 17th century building that houses his eclectic store, and said he enjoys being at the center of a new network of butchers, bakers and beekeepers. “In Germany, I think there’s a tendency now, to be very backward-looking, to say, ‘everything used to be better,'” said Mr. Frühauf. “But all you really need are some new ideas.”

For the full story, see:
Sally McGrane. “‘To Stay Afloat After 100 Years, a German Bookstore Sells Sausage.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018): A7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “‘Would You Like Some Sausage With Your Novel?”)

Regulations Support Car Incumbents and Undermine Tesla Profitability

(p. A13) . . . governments everywhere have decided, perversely, that electric cars will not be profitable. In every major market–the U.S., Europe, China–the same political dispensation now applies: Established auto makers effectively will be required to make and sell electric cars at a loss in order to continue profiting from gas-powered vehicles.
This has rapidly become the institutional structure of the electric-car industry world-wide, for the benefit of the incumbents, whether GM in the U.S. or Daimler in Germany. Let’s face it, the political class always had a bigger investment in these incumbents than it ever did in Tesla.
Tesla has a great brand, great technology and great vehicles. To survive, it also needs to mate itself to a nonelectric pickup truck business. . . .
We’ll save for another day the relating of this phenomenon to Mr. Musk’s recently erratic behavior and pronouncements. . . . Keep your eye on the bigger picture–the bigger picture is the global regulatory capture of the electric car moment by the status quo. And note the irony that Tesla’s home state of California was the original pioneer of this insiders’ regulatory bargain with its so-called zero-emissions-vehicle mandate.
Electric cars were going to remain a niche in any case, but public policy is quickly ruling out the possibility (which Tesla needed) of them at least being a profitable niche.

For the full commentary, see:
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; A Tesla Crackup Foretold; The real problem is that governments everywhere have ordained that electric cars will be sold at a loss.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 23, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2018.)

Ancient Skeletons Harbor a Common Cause of Liver Cancer

(p. A9) Scientists reported on Wednesday [May 9, 2018] that they have recovered DNA from the oldest viruses known to have infected humans — and have succeeded in resurrecting some of them in the laboratory.
The viruses were all strains of hepatitis B. Two teams of researchers independently discovered its DNA in 15 ancient skeletons, the oldest a farmer who lived 7,000 years ago in what is now Germany.
Until now, the oldest viral DNA ever recovered from human remains was just 450 years old.
The research may provide clues to the continuing evolution of hepatitis B, a plague that infects an estimated 257 million people worldwide and contributes to an epidemic of liver cancer.
. . .
Chronic infections can lead to liver cancer. Each year, the World Health Organization estimates, hepatitis B kills 887,000 people. Researchers have long wondered how it became a worldwide menace.
. . .
. . . the skeletons in which the Cambridge geneticists found hepatitis range from 820 to 4,500 years old. The research, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates that hepatitis B existed across Europe and Asia as early as the Bronze Age.
. . .
Johannes Krause and his colleagues examined DNA extracted from the teeth of 53 ancient people in what is now Germany. Three of them were infected with hepatitis B, it turned out: one who lived about 1,000 years ago, a second person who lived 5,300 years ago and a third who lived 7,000 years ago.
. . .
Dr. Krause and his colleagues found that their Stone Age viruses were most closely related to strains of hepatitis B found today only in chimpanzees and gorillas.
He speculated that the virus jumped from apes to humans early in the history of our species in Africa. “It’s more likely this is really an old pathogen in humans for the last hundred thousand years or more,” he said.

For the full story, see:
Zimmer, Carl. “In Ancient Skeletons, Scientists Discover a Modern Foe: Hepatitis B.” The New York Times (Thursday, May 10, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 9, 2018. The print version cited above is the National Edition.)

The paper by the Cambridge geneticists, mentioned above, is:
Mühlemann, Barbara, Terry C. Jones, Peter de Barros Damgaard, Morten E. Allentoft, Irina Shevnina, Andrey Logvin, Emma Usmanova, Irina P. Panyushkina, Bazartseren Boldgiv, Tsevel Bazartseren, Kadicha Tashbaeva, Victor Merz, Nina Lau, Václav Smrčka, Dmitry Voyakin, Egor Kitov, Andrey Epimakhov, Dalia Pokutta, Magdolna Vicze, T. Douglas Price, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, Anders J. Hansen, Ludovic Orlando, Simon Rasmussen, Martin Sikora, Lasse Vinner, Albert D. M. E. Osterhaus, Derek J. Smith, Dieter Glebe, Ron A. M. Fouchier, Christian Drosten, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Kristian Kristiansen, and Eske Willerslev. “Ancient Hepatitis B Viruses from the Bronze Age to the Medieval Period.” Nature 557, no. 7705 (May 9, 2018): 418-23.

The paper co-authored by Krause, and mentioned above, is:
Krause-Kyora, Ben, Julian Susat, Felix M. Key, Denise Kühnert, Esther Bosse, Alexander Immel, Christoph Rinne, Sabin-Christin Kornell, Diego Yepes, Sören Franzenburg, Henrike O. Heyne, Thomas Meier, Sandra Lösch, Harald Meller, Susanne Friederich, Nicole Nicklisch, Kurt W. Alt, Stefan Schreiber, Andreas Tholey, Alexander Herbig, Almut Nebel, and Johannes Krause. “Neolithic and Medieval Virus Genomes Reveal Complex Evolution of Hepatitis B.” eLife 7 (2018): e36666.

FDR’s Coast Guard Denied Entry to Future Medical Visionary

(p. B12) Dr. Arno G. Motulsky, a former refugee from Nazi Germany who became a founder of medical genetics, recognizing the connection between genes and health long before mainstream medicine did, died on Jan. 17 [2018] at his home in Seattle.
. . .
“It was his vision to study how heredity could be involved in practically everything,” Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist and the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview. “The relationship between heredity and the response to drug therapy — nobody was thinking about that until he started, 60 years ago. He anticipated it decades before science made it possible to get the answers that he dreamed of.”
As technologies emerged to decode DNA, the fields that Dr. Motulsky helped originate came to the forefront of medicine, leading to improved diagnosis and treatments for a host of diseases.
. . .
Dr. Motulsky’s path to prominence began in harrowing fashion. He had been one of more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German liner St. Louis, which reached the Miami coast in 1939 but was turned away by the United States and sent back to Europe.
. . .
His parents tried to leave Germany with him and his younger siblings, Leah and Lothar, in 1939, before war broke out in Europe. In an account he gave to the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics in 2016, Dr. Motulsky said his family had hoped to join his father’s brother in Chicago but headed for Cuba instead after hearing that a United States quota system was causing long delays in granting visas.
His father left first. His mother followed soon afterward, taking young Arno and his brother and sister with her aboard the St. Louis in Hamburg on May 13, 1939, bound for Havana. But Cuba refused to accept the refugees, as did other Caribbean countries.
“We asked to land in America, but were denied,” Dr. Motulsky said. “When we sailed close to Miami, U.S. Coast Guard cutters and planes shooed us off.”
Its passengers filled with dread, the ship headed back to Europe on June 6.
“Miraculously, a few days before we would have arrived back in Germany, four other countries — England, France, Holland and Belgium — each agreed to take one-fourth of the passengers,” Dr. Motulsky said.

For the full obituary, see:
DENISE GRADY. “Arno Motulsky, a Founder of Medical Genetics 60 Years Ago, Dies at 94.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): B12.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 29, 2018, and has the title “Arno Motulsky, a Founder of Medical Genetics, Dies at 94.”)

German Energy Consumers Pay Double Due to Ineffective Solar Subsidies

(p. B1) BETZIGAU, Germany — Katharina Zinnecker’s farm in the foothills of the German Alps has been in the family since 1699. But to squeeze a living from it today, she and her husband need to do more than sell the milk from their herd of cows.
So they carpeted the roofs of their farm buildings with solar panels. And thanks to hefty government guarantees, what they earn from selling electricity is “safe money, not like cows,” Ms. Zinnecker said. “Milk prices go up and down.”
The farm has been a beneficiary of “Energiewende,” the German word for energy transition. Over the past two decades, Germany has focused its political will and treasure on a world-leading effort to wean its powerful economy off the traditional energy sources blamed for climate change.
The benefits of the program have not been universally felt, however. A de facto class system has emerged, saddling a group of have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidize the installation of solar panels and wind turbines elsewhere.
. . .
(p. B2) . . . renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, meaning that Energiewende is a big part of the reason prices for consumers have doubled since 2000.
These big increases “are absolutely not O.K.,” said Thomas Engelke, team leader for construction and energy at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, an umbrella organization of consumer groups.
The higher prices have had political consequences.
The far-right party Alternative for Germany, which won enough support in the recent elections to enter Parliament, has called for an “immediate exit” from Energiewende. The party, known by its German initials AfD, sees the program as a “burden” on German households, and many supporters have come into its fold in part because of the program’s mounting costs.
Julian Hermneuwöhner is one such voter. Mr. Hermneuwöhner, a 27-year-old computer science student, said his family paid an additional €800 a year because of Energiewende.
“But it hasn’t brought lower CO2 emissions,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we’re paying so much more, because the country hasn’t gotten anything for it.”
As a clean energy pioneer, Germany has not always seen the results it desired from its heavy spending.
. . .
. . . progress has been undone somewhat by the government’s decision to accelerate its phase out of nuclear power after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan. That has made the country more reliant on its sizable fleet of coal-fired power stations, which account for the bulk of emissions from electricity generation.
The country has yet to address the transport industry, where emissions have increased as the economy boomed and more cars and trucks hit the road.

For the full story, see:
STANLEY REED. “$222 Billion Shift Hits a Snag.” The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 7, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “Germany’s Shift to Green Power Stalls, Despite Huge Investments.”)