GERMANS generally like Barack Obama - 89 percent favored him over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And he admires Germany back.
The president once asked an adviser to explain Germany's success in high-wage manufacturing, according to a Washington Post report by Zachary A. Goldfarb last year. The adviser's answer focused on German investment in workforce training and business-government cooperation.
"If they can do it," Obama replied, "we can do it."
No doubt those familiar features of the German "social market" economy help explain its dominance in Europe and its low, low 5.4 percent unemployment rate. But they date to the economic wunder of the '50s and '60s.
What really propelled Germany's economy to new heights was the package of market-oriented reforms launched by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder 10 years ago.
Schroeder acknowledged that Germany's safety net had become a bit of a hammock. He restructured and reduced unemployment and welfare benefits while giving employers more freedom to hire and fire.
As it happens, Schroeder's plan reflected his admiration for U.S. capitalism, which, in his view, had surpassed Germany's in dynamism, flexibility and innovation.
But it triggered resistance within his own center-left Social Democratic Party - and from ordinary workers, one-eighth of whom were receiving some form of government aid by 2003.
The struggle probably cost Schroeder a third term in the 2005 elections.
History's verdict has been kinder. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has given Schroeder's reforms much of the credit for Germany's "labour market miracle."
Which brings us back to Obama and the United States' economic predicament today.
That predicament has both cyclical and structural components: It is the result not only of a spectacular financial crisis but also of accumulated rigidities and inefficiencies.
In the United States, too, certain outdated or unwise policies discourage work and investment (Schroeder's impressions a decade ago notwithstanding).
Social Security Disability Insurance - SSDI - is a case in point.
Congress created this program in 1956 to help workers age 50 and older who were terminally ill or unable to work for the rest of their lives, but it has steadily expanded so that now it covers workers in their 20s with maladies such as back pain.
SSDI spending has tripled since 1970, relative to the economy's size, and it now approaches a full percentage point of gross domestic product. The program paid $135 billion to 8.8 million beneficiaries (plus 2.1 million spouses and children) in fiscal 2012.