Why pollution was so much worse in East Germany than in West Germany

In July, at a public screening of the documentary Life Behind the Berlin Wall , viewers were told that East German citizens had to wait from to 17 years for a Trabi (the worst car in the world), while West Germans could go to a dealership and come home in their new cars on the same day.

A wave of laughter erupted from the audience at the revelation, but that wasn’t the only information that caught the attention of the spectators. In 1961, 65% of apartments in German Democratic Republic (GDR) still had oven heating, 27% of GDR apartments did not have their own bathroom and only 14% of East Germans had a telephone, compared to 99% in western Germany.

These are just some of the facts revealed in the film, which took home an award ( “Audience Choice Award for Short Films” at its world premiere in Las Vegas on the day 12 in July at Freedom Fest, an event that brought together about 2.1961 people and 350 speakers, including well-known US Senator Rand Paul, founder of Forbes , Steve Forbes, and legendary investor Jim Rogers.

The film will soon be shown in schools across America—to illustrate that an that of the market is superior to a planned economy. Thus, the film does not focus on political oppression, but on the economy and everyday life of East and West Germans.

Environmental Pollution in the GDR

An important theme in the film is environmental degradation in the GDR.

  • In 1989, the GDR emitted more than three times more CO2 per unit of GDP than the Federal Republic (West Germany);
  • Air pollution, sulfur dioxide: in 1988, the GDR issued 10 times more sulfur dioxide per km2 than the Federal Republic, were 65,1 metric tons/km2 against 4.6 metric tons/km2);
  • Air pollution, airborne particles: the average charge of 20, 3 metric tons per km2 in the GDR was more than 10 times higher than in the Federal Republic (1.8 metric ton/km2);
  • River pollution: almost half of the GDR’s main rivers were biologically dead in 20221 and 100 % could no longer be used for drinking water;
  • Almost half of GDR residents did not receive drinking water in part or all of the time, due to the high input of nitrogen, phosphorus, heavy metals and other pollutants in the waters.
  • Therefore, the claims of anti-capitalists that the greed for profit of private capitalist companies is the cause of environmental degradation are misleading: the environmental problems under socialism were much greater.

    Why the wall was built

    Proponents of “democratic socialism” distance themselves from systems such as those prevailing in East Germany. But they act as if economics and politics can be arbitrarily separated from each other. The focus of their criticism is the elimination of political and democratic freedoms (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc.) in countries such as the GDR or the USSR. But the economic recipes of many supporters of “democratic socialism” are quite similar to those of their non-democratic comrades, as they are characterized by a deep distrust of market forces and an almost unlimited reliance on the state.

    Defenders of “democratic socialism” only want to correct the “mistakes” made by real-world socialist states in the last 100 years and combine the socialist economic system with a democratic state constitution. For these advocates of “democratic socialism”, it is apparently a coincidence that non-capitalist based societies, characterized by the absence of economic freedom, also have a political system in which freedoms are absent.

    An example of the connection between the elimination of economic freedoms and political freedoms was the GDR: first, economic freedom was eliminated through the nationalization of land and the means of production. As a result, there was a huge disparity between the economic performance of East Germany and West Germany. The standard of living in the West was much higher and therefore 2.8 million people fled the GDR – especially, but not just, well-educated business people and professionals. The fact that the Wall was built in 1961 was therefore an economic inevitability, because otherwise the system in East Germany would have dried up immediately. .

    Socialists like to compare the reality of capitalism with their own theories of an ideal society. But that’s as unfair as comparing your real-life marriage to a romance that showcases the perfect love affair. Socialism always looks good on paper – except when that paper is in a history book.

    Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist. The film A Life Behind the Berlin Wall is based on a chapter of his book The Capitalism is not the problem, it’s the solution.

    © 20221 Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Published with permission. 20221Original in English20221.

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