Getabstract and Personal-Financial.com are cooperating on the occasion of the Getabstract International Book Award 2020, for which Thomas Heilmann and Nadine Schön are nominated with their book “Neustaat”.
The conclusion of “Neustaat” to the German state is “too bureaucratic, too complex, too slow”. Why?
THOMAS HEILMANN: Well, that’s only half true. You don’t quote the book’s conclusion, but the starting point. According to our diagnosis, our state is caught in the complexity trap and is working too slowly at all levels. Unless it’s a crisis. Then the decision will be made quickly, but the processes are not optimal even then. We all know bureaucratic problems, for example when applying for a vehicle registration, parental allowance or identity card. The duration of all major infrastructure projects and all sustainable changes is particularly blatant. In our book we show in detail why Germany can no longer cope with this in the long term in view of the global changes. Our values and our prosperity are threatened. The public sector needs to function better. We need the “new state”.
You write that there will soon be a “learning state”. What is meant by this?
Let’s take the example of Corona. Here we experienced a state that learned extremely quickly and adapted its behavior. At first we didn’t have a lockdown, then we listened to virologists and observed the number of cases and decided that more far-reaching measures were needed. We then reassessed the development of the pandemic on a daily basis and adjusted the decisions based on clear facts until more “normal” life was possible bit by bit. Now I don’t want our state to always work in crisis mode, but we want it to constantly review and adapt its actions based on clear facts. This includes defining clear goals, e.g. XY to create many new study places and then to check whether the instruments used achieve their goal. So there is a suggestion in the book that we measure laws by how successful they are. If you meet your goals, all is well. If you don’t do it, they will have to be adjusted or they will become invalid. In short: we want the state to make decisions based more on data than on political gusto. So you could save yourself one or the other completely ideological debate about speed limits or apartment expropriations.
The book contains a total of 103 suggestions. Which two do you think are the most important?
There is not one suggestion that matters most! Many belong together and only develop their full effectiveness together. What seems most urgent to me are the proposals that turn the actions of the state upside down, i.e. how we make laws, how we select staff and how authorities work together. At the core we have to stop working sequentially. Today everyone works one after the other and when it is the fifth’s turn, the result of the first has already overtaken itself. We need networked collaboration with so-called collaboration tools. Then our federalism will work better again. However, this presupposes that we reorganize our legal technology, the entire procedural law, administrative law and public personnel management. We need new standards.
Why are the administration and handling of data so important for the “new state”?
Without a functioning state there would have been no early days in the 19th century and no economic miracle in the 20th century. Major state reforms preceded this. That is why we have today introduced and expanded the rule of law, an incorruptible public service, separation of powers, fundamental rights and democracy. Now we have to think again for the changing world. The good basic principles of our legal system need a supplement: transparent, data-based decisions and faster implementation in the administration.
How should the state change its role in dealing with the economy?
I have the feeling that Germany is currently resting on its successes from the “old economy”. We have to understand that there are many new business models in which we are not currently at the forefront, although these will determine whether we will still be competitive in ten years or not. Our auto industry is extremely threatened, and I don’t think everyone’s mind has that yet. So we first need an awareness of this problem. The new, innovative business models need fair regulation, which, above all, decides quickly: This is allowed and that is not. If autonomous driving has already been approved in the USA but we have been discussing it for 20 years, then we will lose the result. If we allow Google to conquer every new digital business area with unfair methods, our start-ups have no chance. If we stop enforcing open technical standards, Europe will have no future economically. If our companies can finance themselves more expensively or not at all like the competition in Asia and the USA, then we will lag behind. In short: good economic policy is based on good laws.