Lessons from the Berlin Wall

John Fund of National Review Online ponders the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall.

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years until in 1989 a wave of citizen protest forced the East German Communist government to open its gates. We’ve now gone longer without the Berlin Wall than it existed.

As we marked the anniversary, on November 9, of its demise, I couldn’t help but recall with wonder how astonishingly quickly the ugly scar of the wall along with its guards, dogs, and mines were all swept away in a wave of euphoria. …

… Christa Luft, was the last person to serve as minister of economics in the East German government. Appointed just after the wall fell, she faced the daunting challenge of holding together a collapsing centrally planned economy. When I interviewed her just before Christmas 1989, I asked her how long East Germany could have preserved Communism if the wall hadn’t collapsed. With remarkable candor she said: “We had at most six months to a year.” The economy, she explained, was so inefficient at the end that if a machine tool broke down in Leipzig there would likely be no spare part available. A factory manager desperate to produce his quota of goods would often pay to have the needed part stolen for him from a factory in another city.

Excited to hear such a realistic explanation of the collectivist system, I then asked how the American CIA had possibly calculated that East Germany had a higher GDP than Ireland did, and indeed that West German per capita GDP was only 32 percent higher than East Germany’s. A clearly exhausted Christa Luft started to offer a rationalization and then gave up. “We lied,” she suddenly burst out. “But it wasn’t entirely our fault. You in the West believed our lies, and even gave us loans and other money based on our lies.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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