Pioneer Briefing US Edition

Fear is the New Sex

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 © The Pioneer

Good Morning,

We often perceive the world through the lens of wealth or poverty, North and South, male or female, and religious affiliations such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam. For a deeper understanding of our modern societies, however, it's smart to consider another category - one that revolves around the concepts of "fear" and "confidence."

 © The Pioneer

If we envision "fear" and "confidence" as rival forces, it's evident that fear has gained considerable ground. And confidence seems to be trapped by the forces of fear. In areas where fear falls short, the "worst-case scenario" emerges as a dominant concern, catalyzing skepticism and ultimately leading to nihilism. What has happened to the idea of a best-case scenario?

The confidence of millions of voters has diminished. In many regions, trust has been severely eroded and inspiration from political visionaries has decreased significantly.

In his book "Creating Fear," media expert David Altheide describes:

Fear has become the dominant public perspective. Fear starts with individual aspects of life that we are afraid of, but over time, it becomes the way we view life as a whole.

While in Western societies, we feel divided into a variety of political schools of thought, Altheide disagrees, seeing fear as the invisible power that binds our democratic societies together:

Fear is a perspective that citizens share today. Although they differ in what they fear, the market of fear has spawned a vast industry.

Confidence is fighting a losing battle. Confidence is a limited resource, whereas fear comes in abundance. A killing spree in Paris leads to tighter security at all German airports. A knife attack somewhere increases fears of alienation everywhere. Even the mildest recession feeds the fear of social decline in millions. The mathematics of fear is not taught at any university, yet it is mastered in every household:

1 plus 1 equals a hundred.

Today, political parties are in the business of selling fears rather than positive visions of the future. Similarly, the media capitalizes on negativity as a selling point. While the adage "sex sells" once prevailed, today, it seems that fear has taken its place: Fear is the new sex.

In "Politics of Fear," the Austrian-British sociologist Ruth Wodak writes that the complex interplay between media, scandalization and the politics of fear has created a ‘perpetual motion machine.’

The traffic light coalition © dpa

The internet functions as a department store of political fear, with shops open around the clock:

  • The Christian Democrat Party (CDU) has recently specialized in the fear of Germany's decline. At least that's a product innovation. During Angela Merkel's time, this product did not exist.

  • The Greens fear climate catastrophe with dramatic rhetoric. Their bestsellers are extreme weather situations with associated tipping points.

  • The right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) thrives on fear of migration and alienation – now that fear of the euro no longer sells.

  • The Social Democratic Party (SPD) offers an assortment of fears according to its own recipe; these include slightly bland fears of old-age poverty, unemployment, and housing shortages, which can be garnished with the much spicier fear of nuclear war à la Scholz.

  • The Free Democratic Party (FDP) is offering the fears of more debt and more Habeck, which are not doing very well at the moment. Habeck is a green politician who serves as secretary of commerce.

The current government coalition parties learned the hard way what will happen if others' fears aren't taken seriously. In their attempt to counter the AfD's fear narrative with their own "fear of the right," they faltered. Julian Nida-Rümelin delves into why this strategy failed in his latest essay, "Ears in the Wind—Political Orientation in Difficult Times."

They believed they had to trivialize the challenge of migration policy, and for years, they failed to develop an effective strategy for dealing with it. The hope was to remove the migration issue from the political public's list of priorities or to push it down the list to deprive right-wing populism of its basis. This calculation did not work.

Nevertheless, the fight against the right continues, with the SPD considering anything to the right of Scholz, right-wing.

Olaf Scholz © imago

Gone are the days when parties campaigned on bold visions for the future. In the past, the Greens didn't dream of rearmament but of eternal peace. Left-wing parties didn't offer their voters the prevention of social cuts; instead, they provided democratic socialism.

German social democracy under Willy Brandt was not afraid but proud - even of Germany. They wanted to "dare to be more democratic.”

SPD election poster for the 1972 Bundestag election © imago

The SPD led by Gerhard Schröder promised "upward mobility and participation" - not basic income and minimum wage. Back then, they wanted to see workers rise. Today, they want to prevent them from falling. It's not the same thing.

In the US, the same forces are at work. Kennedy stood for "We can do better," Ronald Reagan won with the slogan "It's morning in America again," and Obama promised his voters that "Change has come to America" with the idea of health insurance for all.

Election slogan "It's morning again in America" by Ronald Reagan © Republicans

Historically, political parties inhabited two homes. The first home being the present, where they tackled and resolved pressing issues. Equally important, exemplified by leaders like Brandt, Kennedy, Reagan and Obama, was their engagement with the second home —a place where the dreams of a better future and a more just world resided. Unfortunately, today's parties have neglected these second homes for quite some time.

Conclusion: The fear of fear is what today’s democratic parties have to offer. However, perhaps the entire sinister framework of this political approach is flawed. Or to say it in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York © imago

  • Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is visiting Poland.

  • In Grünheide (near Berlin), around 12,500 employees of Tesla are electing a new works council.

  • A new mural by the world's most successful street artist Banksy has appeared in London.

Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner with Hubertus Heil, Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs © dpa

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Finance Minister Christian Lindner have introduced two key components of their pension package: stabilizing the pension level at 48 percent and introducing a stock-based pension plan. Lars Feld, Lindner's chief advisor, offers critical insights into both reforms, along with suggestions for improvement. In particular, he questions the long-term sustainability of the 48 percent threshold.

In the Pioneer Podcast, Feld warned:

Around 2028, this will start to affect contributors and could push up contribution rates.

There are design flaws in the equity-based retirement system: the funds it generates are not deposited into individual retirement accounts. This leads to incomplete security and deprives future retirees of the ability to save money for investments. Feld proposes a solution:

Allocating a certain amount to each retiree would provide more security, and allowing additional contributions to this account would ensure a higher retirement income.

When asked about his approach to making pensions sustainable, Feld's short answer was to eliminate the mother's pension and raise the retirement age. Tune into today’s episode of the Pioneer Podcast, to learn more.

Click here to listen to today's episode of the Pioneer Podcast in German.

Boris Pistorius and his Polish counterpart Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz © dpa

During his brief stay in Warsaw, Pistorius' first stop was the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Here, he learned not only about Jewish life throughout the centuries, but also about Poland's repeated oppression by imperialist neighbors, most recently, the Hitler-Stalin Pact. For Poland, the danger of a revisionist Russia poses an immediate threat to its own freedom.

Rolf Mützenich © dpa

Poland received a clear rejection from the German defense minister on the subject of "freezing" the war in Ukraine. Pistorius thus contradicts his party colleague, SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich:

We cannot settle for a dictated peace or a ceasefire that merely freezes the conflict, allowing Putin to emerge strengthened and reignite hostilities at will.

Kindred spirits: Pistorius is not alone in this attitude. The fate of Europe is also being decided in Ukraine. Pistorius said yesterday at a joint press conference with Polish Defense Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz in Warsaw that freezing the war would only benefit Putin in the long run.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk visits the factory in Grünheide (13.03.2024) © dpa

Power struggle at Tesla: In Grünheide near Berlin, the 12,500 employees of the U.S. carmaker are voting for a new works council. Nine lists with 264 candidates are running, with IG Metall fielding 106 candidates.

The union wants to establish a presence in Grünheide – but IG Metall has many criticisms of Tesla's only European factory. They want to increase their influence on the works council. Currently, the council is perceived as being too close to management and often approving employee terminations without objection. There are also concerns about compromises in workplace safety due to sped-up production, leaving workers with insufficient time even for water breaks. The union is also trying to enforce a collective bargaining agreement.

Tesla Works Council Chairwoman Michaela Schmitz speaks to the employees © imago

IG Metall is not welcome: The chairwoman of the works council at Tesla's Grünheide plant, Michaela Schmitz, says the union does more harm than good for Tesla workers. She accuses it of trying to:

Impose a template on the plant, just to make us like all the other car manufacturers.

She also warned of "polarization and class warfare.”

Jean-Jacques Henchoz, Chairman of the Executive Board of Hannover Re © imago

Celebration in the air: After Allianz and Munich Re, the third DAX insurer, Hannover Rück, announced its results for the fiscal year. Like its competitors, the insurer significantly increased its earnings: Net income rose by 133 percent to €1.8 billion. Management announced in December that it aimed for €2.1 billion in 2024.

Two drivers for Hannover Rück were strong investment performance and lower tax expenses, strengthening the balance sheet. Higher interest rates boosted investment income to €1.6 billion (+64.5 percent). Tax expense decreased by €26.3 million (-95 percent) due to a one-time effect related to the global OECD minimum taxation.

Share reaches new all-time high: On Monday morning, the share reached an all-time high of €247.90 but lost some value during the day. Some investors took advantage of the positive results and outlook to take some profits. Nevertheless, the stock has gained 44 percent over the past year.

Xi Jinping © imago

Economic momentum is picking up: China's economy shows signs of revival. Industrial production rose seven percent year-on-year in January and February, beating analysts' expectations of a five percent increase. Retail sales also showed a positive trend, rising 5.5 percent, beating the earlier forecast of 5.2 percent.

The real estate sector continues to struggle: Investment in real estate development fell by nine percent compared to the previous year. Real estate prices declined, falling 1.4 percent from a year earlier. Analysts expect the property sector to continue to hold back growth this year.

Chinese stock market gains traction: Despite ongoing challenges in the property sector, upbeat industrial and retail data have outweighed concerns about the property market. The Shanghai Composite Index has risen six percent in the past month. By comparison, the U.S. S&P 500 Index rose 3.6 percent and the DAX rose 4.9 percent.

Banksy's latest work on a house wall in London's Finsbury Park © imago

New Banksy in London: Last Sunday, a mural by the world's most successful street artist, Banksy, appeared on a wall in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of London. At first glance, all you see is a mass of grass-green paint applied by a figure wielding a spray can in classic Banksy style.

A photo of the painting in London's Finsbury Park, which Banksy posted on his Instagram account yesterday. © Instagram/banksy

Perspective matters: Step back and you can see what the green blob is supposed to represent. With a bare tree in the foreground, from the right angle, it appears to be the tree's foliage.

The house wall behind the bare tree before Banksy painted it © Instagram/banksy

The message: Banksy's artwork frequently carries profound symbolism, and this mural appears to express concerns about environmental degradation. The synthetic crown of the tree, dissolving into an almost toxic green, could symbolize the irreversible damage done to nature. However, only the artist himself can know for sure – but his identity remains unknown.

The most captivating aspect of Banksy's art seems to be the enigmatic artist himself – a figure who remains unseen and unheard. If Banksy had a title like his artworks, it would probably be: The Invisible Man.

Wishing you a wonderful start to your day. Stay informed. Stay with me.

Best wishes,

Pioneer Editor, Editor in Chief, The Pioneer
  1. , Pioneer Editor, Editor in Chief, The Pioneer

Editorial Team

Eleanor Cwik, Alexia Ramos, Nico Giese & Lukas Herrmann

With contributions from: Philipp Heinrich, Luisa Nuhr & Tatiana Laudien

Translation Team

Eleanor Cwik & Alexia Ramos

Graphics Team

Aaron Wolf (Cover Art)

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