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Holiday hiatus: West German prelude to deeper reflections

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WEST Germany this holiday week seems ensconced in such complete hibernation that no message of any consequence appears likely to penetrate. In the capital, Bonn, only a skeleton staff remains to mind the political store. Young men in the military, 240,000 of them, have been granted a Christmas-cum-New Year's leave of absence.

Between Christmas and New Year's, business activity slows to a pitiful pace. Woe to the hapless person who needs to move to a new house, refurnish his office , or get the notary's attention.

But such slowdowns provide only a temporary respite from the exigencies of everyday activity. One gets the impression that the Germans enjoy their holidays all the more for the instinctive realization of their precariously balanced status in the middle of this history-burdened continent.

Some of this unease, to be sure, is self-generated. Life, to millions of Germans, is simply too good to be true. Can the material wealth accumulated by the middle-class burghers last? Can the welfare system continue to deliver its goods so lavishly in the future? Can the country afford and can its economy absorb social legislation that virtually guarantees a person's job against the vicissitudes of the marketplace? What price stability? What about the 2 million unemployed with little hope of being hired now because industry is too afraid to hire people it cannot ever get rid of?

Demands for security that exceed the rightful claim upon a stable future can only subvert the desired goal. Insecurity, not security, is the predictable effect of an inflated insurance policy against life's endemic risks.

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