How breakneck is capitalism

"The market is social and capitalism is fair." Sentences like these have to melt on your tongue in times of financial crisis. There is hardly a political observer, and certainly not a politician, who dares to formulate it so simply and yet so aptly. Friedrich Merz does it, and he does it with pleasure and ability.

The former CDU top politician has written a new book with which he painfully documents the void he left after leaving politics.

You don't have to be of the same opinion as Friedrich Merz, but hardly anyone will seriously deny that he was one of the few prominent economic politicians in the German Bundestag, and that he is absent there. It was a dramatic mistake that the Chancellor and CDU chairwoman Angela Merkel systematically pushed men like him, however vain and self-indulgent they may be, out of politics; he casts a very bad light on them for all time.

Merz has taken the effort to re-examine his worldview. He names his son Philippe, a philosophy student, and the business student Tim Christiansen as intellectual sparring partners.

Don't speak to people by their mouths

The result is a 200-page pamphlet for the market and against an excessive welfare state. Merz starts with the philosopher Plato, deals with the different concepts of justice, establishes the subsidiary welfare state, justifies the shareholder economy, breaks a lance for the financial investors known as grasshoppers and touches on other relevant issues of economic policy.

The trained lawyer Merz clearly deduces what the market economy or capitalism, which is the same, is based on: on private capital, the use of which is based on expected returns in competition with other market participants. The state specifies the legal system in which the market takes place. In principle, it does not appear from market participants itself.

This model has been extremely successful in Germany since Ludwig Erhard and enabled a well-functioning welfare state for the weak. In the globalization, in which new, pressing, more efficient and cheaper producing competitors emerge, the system groans in the hinges; there is of course no promising alternative.

"More justice," decreed by the state, is a very popular demand, Merz knows that too, and he admits that you can win elections with it - but not the future.

Depending on the labor market situation, around 40 percent of the population in Germany today is wholly or partially dependent on transfer payments from public funds - who will these people vote for? Responsible politics, says ex-politician Merz, shouldn't speak to people by their mouths.

Settlement with your own party

Although the word CDU rarely occurs and the name Angela Merkel does not appear at all, this book is a reckoning with one's own party and its rulers. It is worth reading for anyone looking for regulatory orientation in turbulent times.

And yet it falls short - because there are no explicit answers to the dramatic legitimacy crisis of capitalism. Of course, Merz points out that the market economy is steadily losing approval. But that is still the old situation. It has basically existed since Gerhard Schröder's "Agenda 2010" policy, which Merz emphatically praises.

What is new are the rapidly growing doubts about capitalism, even the self-doubts that arise as a result of the financial crisis: the dramatic market failure in this sector of the economy, the downturn in Wall Street, and the government bailouts for banks cannot be discussed casually.

The author already speaks of a "partial banking crisis" and suspects that this spill over to the entire economy and that this could "intensify" the criticism of capitalism, "especially since some managers with their greed and their breakneck actions on the capital markets this criticism downright invite ".

For a book, the manuscript of which was probably completed months ago, that is quite farsighted. Unfortunately, Merz avoids dealing with the consequences of this turning point: there is a need for improvement for a new edition.

Well-known authors answer questions. On the blue sofa during the Frankfurt Book Fair.