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by Gunter Rexrodt
Saturday, May. 21, 2005 at 6:12 AM
Socially just means people have comparable chances to develop in their lives, may have work, are protected against the great risks of life and can age with dignity. To that end, social systems and personal effort are necessary.
IS THE SOCIAL STATE ENDING?
Germany in Economic Recession
[This debate in Hanover, August 26, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.tacheles.net/druck.php?id=23.]
The German economy is depressed. Mass unemployment remains as stable as the high state deficit. Now the German government with Agenda 2010 plans a reform package full of painful cuts. In the future, unemployed persons will have to accept any job. Long-term unemployed should be content with support at the level of income support.
WHAT IS SOCIALLY JUST?
Socially just means people have comparable chances to develop in their lives, may have work, are protected against the great risks of life and can age with dignity. To that end, social systems and personal effort are necessary. The social systems can no longer be financed since we have an aging population and fewer and fewer younger persons.
Social justice may not be a remainder according to the slogan, first comes the economy and then justice. Everyone must have chances so a third of society is not marginalized partly below the poverty line. A just distribution of income must be the result.
I agree with equal chances but equal distribution means socialism. No one will make an effort any more if the result is automatically equal.
IS THE SOCIAL STATE ENDING?
No. We cannot allow the social state to be trivialized. The possibilities for solidarity must be preserved in an aging society. The chances for participation are central, not only distribution. The high unemployment and the way we treat the unemployed are the great scandals.
The society has the challenge described in the Bible in the story of the talents. One should not bury talents. Everyone should be able to offer their abilities.
The social state is not only cash or a treasury. The social state is a cultural asset that we live in a society where the poor, sick, elderly and needy are not marginalized. The social state symbolizes assumed responsibility. Germany has three great challenges: mass unemployment, the increasing aging of society and exorbitant state debts.
ON TAXING INHERITANCES AND STOCK PROFITS
Our tax system must count those who earn and have massive assets. However those who earn something pack their things and go elsewhere in an open world.
We cannot go much further with the property tax since there are endless practical problems. With the inheritance tax on the other hand, I see an urgent need for reform. My generation is the inheritance generation. At the same time we have ailing schools and spend too little for families, that is for future investments.
16 percent of work in Germany is illicit work. We must earn 40 percent more in Germany to realize the same net income as in Switzerland. Great disparities exist in the tax system through the many special circumstances. All these special circumstances should be removed to lower the taxes and reduce the incentive to work illicitly. Then we would have fewer problems with taxes, pensions and the health system.
The economy must grow. When businesses can look to the future and invest and when they can export, jubs will arise.
That is hocus-pocus policy as sold for decades. We know that we cannot advance with growth alone in a globalized world and an aging society.
Economic growth can contribute to the creation of jobs. However there is no guarantee any more of job creation. It is no accident that stock prices of firms rise when jobs are reduced. As an evangelical church, we developed a business seal of quality for firms that systematically create jobs since this is no longer automatic. In the East there are 24 job seekers for every job. Their problem cannot be solved with economic growth alone.
Telling the unemployed to make great effort at finding a job is not enough. The framework must be created so firms can offer jobs. Many medium-sized businesses cannot speak with their employees about wage renunciation or extending working hours to create jobs or apprenticeships because union and management block this.
THE LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED IN THE FUTURE FALL TO THE LEVEL OF INCOME SUPPORT WITH UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE II. THIS MEANS 345 EURO A MONTH IN THE WEST. IS THAT JUST?
I don’t regard that as just. Employees are affected who paid taxes, income support and unemployment insurance for many years and after a short time will be dependent on income support.
That is the subsistence level. I feel sorry for those who have to live at this level. If I increase income support, I must simultaneously levy more taxes to pay for this. Recipients of medium incomes already have more than 40 percent deductions. Many ask themselves today how much they can still hand over?
There is a long transition time in the legal draft so the hammer will not fall right after one year. We should maintain unemployment benefits so that people have publically supported employment. Workers should receive more when they do this work. We close libraries and swimming pools while giving money to persons to do nothing though they are trained for this work. Employment has priority over non-employment. We have much experimenting to do.
I see it as very problematic that the unemployed must accept any activity in the future since otherwise the unemployment benefit will be first suspended and then reduced. As unionists we know forcing people in a downward spiral never gets anywhere.
Today businesses with 3.7 million employees are forced to give work to three times more persons abroad than foreign businesses employ in Germany. In Switzerland, firms can produce with 25 percent less costs than in Germany and the people have 14 percent more in their wage envelope. That is the core theme. We need internationally competitive jobs in Germany. But at the moment we stand by and watch as growth occurs in other countries.
The social state does not go bust when there are jobs. We must create the conditions so additional jobs arise. The cakes that we distribute must grow. Then everyone will have something.
Growth and a more just distribution of labor are imperative. That would also contribute to more humanliness.
IN THE BIBLICAL PARABLE OF THE LABORERS IN THE VINEYARD, ONE WORKS THE WHOLE DAY AND ANOTHER ONLY ONE HOUR. ALL RECEIVE THE SAME WAGE IN THE EVENING. DOES THIS SOCIAL UTOPIA STILL HAVE A PLACE IN OUR SOCIETY?
The story of the laborers in the vineyard is not a concept for conducting wage negotiations. It is far more than a social utopia. It says the one who only had the chance of working one hour has the same right and the same dignity before this owner as the one who labored all day. That there is only one kind of human dignity, not persons of the first and second class, is the underlying radical conviction.
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