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The Great Divide

22 Sep

GDR border installations (Wall) at Brandenburg Gate,

Berlin – Capital of the GDR

I’ve blogged on the subject of the Berlin Wall before, but I’m dong it from a different angle this time.

Suppose London was divided politically at the River Thames, the geographical feature which separates Central and North London from South London. Imagine a Socialist (or Communist) regime south of the River, and a capitalist one north of it, like East and West Berlin in former times.

South London would have subsidized basic foodstuffs, cheap and efficient public transport, guaranteed pensions, full employment, and cheap rents because the social housing would also be subsidized. However luxury goods might well be dearer than in North London, and wages would be lower to reflect the many subsidies and social services, etc.

With an open border across the bridges/tunnels over/under the Thames just imagine what would happen. People living in cheap accommodation south of the River would be attracted to find higher paid jobs north of the River  and commute there daily. If they couldn’t find a job, well they are guaranteed one anyway in the south, since under Socialism jobs are created for everyone regardless of whether it is economic or profitable to do so.

People living in the northern half of the city would be very attracted by the subsidized foodstuffs, etc. available in the southern half. Shops there would be stripped bare, and there would then be shortages, since they weren’t meant to feed both north and south Londoners.

Unless there was some kind of tax agreement between the two political and geographical entities, south Londoners working in the northern half of the city would presumably have tax deducted there, so enriching North London and depriving South London of much needed income.

Quite obviously this situation could not be allowed to continue indefinitely. Two diametrically opposed political systems cannot exist side-by-side with open borders, there has to be restrictions on movement between the two, and on both emigration and immigration.

It is the same with states with vastly different standards of living which exist side-by-side. This is why the USA has erected a border fence between it and Mexico. Without it Mexicans and others from Latin America would stream north unimpeded, and the USA just couldn’t cope with such an influx, while Latin America would be desparately short of much needed labor power.

Only when there is parity in living standards and a similar political system can there be truly open borders between neighboring states. This is becoming clear in the European Union where low-wage countries are starved of labor, while high-wage countries have an influx of immigrants working at or below the minimum wage, causing unemployment and higher benefit bills.

The Berlin Wall was an absolute economic necessity, but minefields and shooting people trying to cross illegaly was wrong and unnecessary. All that was needed was controlled crossings, with West Berliners required to pay duty to the GDR authorities on goods bought in the East, and East Berliners required to forfeit a hefty deposit if they failed to return to the GDR after their visit to the West. This deposit would compensate for their education, free medical services, etc. in the GDR from which West Berlin/West Germany would now benefit without costing them a penny.

If you think the GDR was a vast prison camp from which nearly every ordinary citizen was longing to escape then you have to answer the obvious question as to why more people didn’t leave East Germany when there was an open border in Berlin from when the city was divided into zones of occupation after the Second World War to 1961 when the Wall went up. If things were so bad in the Soviet Zone, which became the GDR in 1949, then the whole population would have fled West. But they had their homes in the East and all the benefits of Socialism mentioned above, which must have outweighed any perceived disadvantages.

Not to mention those who emigrated from West to East of course, including present German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her family, and American Rock singer Dean Reed, born Denver, Colorado but who became a star in his new home, the GDR. Or indeed the woman from the DPRK (North Korea) who was spirited out to the RoK (South Korea) by her sister, but returned to her home in the North because she felt loyalty to the state which had raised her.

You must also ask yourself why today so many in Eastern Germany have nostalgia and longing for many things in the old German Democratic Republic, and even regret it being swallowed up by the Federal Republic of Germany (former West Germany).

Yes people should have a choice which country/political system they live under, but this cannot be an absolutely free choice when it infringes upon the rights of others. It has to be a restricted choice, with possible financial penalties. You certainly cannot enjoy the best of both worlds, such as the high wages of an advanced capitalist state (fought for and won by their trade unions to pay the high prices, rents, insurance, pension contributions and mortgages of capitalism) while living in low-rent accommodation and enjoying subsidzed social services and basic necessities of life in a Socialist state. You can’t, in other words, have your cake and eat it.

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