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Working Three Hours a Day is Enough

by Daniela Dahn Sunday, Sep. 04, 2005 at 5:32 PM

"Keynes predicted 60 years ago that three hours work per day would be enough. Instead more than seven million (in Germany) are in a desperate situation.. The system logic is obviously exhausted.."


For an Economic Order Based on Human Dignity: A Plea at the Erfurt Social Forum

By Daniela Dahn

[This article published in: Freitag 30, 7/29/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2005/30/05300301.php.]

At the end of July 2005, the Erfurt Social Forum ended with the declaration: Whoever promotes neoliberal reorganization must expect massive resistance. The author Daniela Dahn spoke at one of the many podiums of the first meeting of this kind in Germany. This article is based on her address.

Very pleasant events confront us with very unpleasant problems. Mass unemployment will seemingly dissolve since we must slave away less, travel more freely and live longer. In reality, mass unemployment is still overwhelming because we have not transformed emancipatory achievements into social progress and happiness for everyone.

When social democracy set out its vision in Erfurt in 1891, its social program had a long-term objective. The influential economist Keynes predicted 60 years ago that three hours work per day would be enough. Instead of this, more than seven million people are in a desperate situation, not an emancipated situation. They are without work. The society is divided in acknowledged service providers and subsidized superfluous. The European Union (EU) has a poverty line of 700 Euro per month in net income. Hartz IV recipients receive half of that and with their grants remain below the subsistence level. These are poor people. The only thing that functions in the so-called reforms is intimidation. The fear of unemployment is a permanent perfect repression. The loss of work is ultimately an experience of violence.

A few days ago a study showed that poverty in East Germany is growing again (in the West, poverty has remained constant which is also not comforting). The average income has fallen back to the 1994 level and amounts to only 80 percent of the western level. If one deducts the grants from the state budget, it amounts to only 63 percent, the lowest level since the fall of the Berlin wall. The study also noted that the greater inequality cannot be corrected any more with the past system of redistribution through taxes and transfers. The only way out is abolishing unemployment.

No one has a magic formula for this epochal task including me. What the established parties recommend as therapy against mass unemployment is like a mosquito making a cool wading pond for an elephant writhing in a delirium. This quakery has failed for 20 years. Tax gifts to economic giants have not brought any jobs. On the contrary, two-thirds of the profits are invested in rationalization or reducing jobs.

Some politicians and unionists like the economic minister and the DGB union- chairperson steal away from responsibility by spreading the misunderstanding that creating jobs is the concern of businesses. According to the prevailing legal situation, corporations and businesses may and must do nothing except be profitable. Charitable or cooperative considerations are prohibited and punished by hostile takeovers or simply bankruptcy. Marx would hardly have been surprised when the second largest German firm was taken over. The predatory structural laws of capital allow capital to be predatory when it is not forced to an accounting.

The society that must be compelled to consider the needs of people consists of parties, governments, parliamentarians, unions and citizen movements. Its task is to create conditions under which everyone has a meaningful existence and a livelihood free from cares. Among the spokespersons at the first social forum in Germany were good organizations like attac, Rosa Luxemburg foundation, GEW, IG Metal and Verdi Society can often be changed more permanently from the opposition than from the government. Antiquated assumptions can only be shaken when the united neoliberal party in parliament is loudly criticized in the future.

The superstition is that growth is still the guarantor for the necessary jobs. In building phases, the economy may have reduced but never could abolish unemployment. No economist can predict convincingly today how many jobs will come from increased output. One estimate assumes an annual (and unattainable) growth of three percent could create 600,000 jobs. If this assumption is correct, we would need an annual growth of 35 percent to employ all seven million persons without work. What would we and nature look like afterwards? With three percent growth, the next generation must consume twice as much as we consume today and the generation after that four times That is impossible! Accelerating increase is a condition for the existence of capitalism, not of the people living in capitalism. The people will fall into existential crises of meaning again and again.

If we are honest, unemployment cannot be combated with uncontrolled expansion of profit maximization over the whole globe and under nearly exclusive private ownership of the means of production. The system logic is obviously exhausted. Even a left cannot change this substantially in the short-term. Only when the left wins majorities who break out of the mental cage can it enact new local, European and global rules of the game.

Unemployment is the most radical form of reduction in working hours. The economy needs this reduction, not the people. The paid work that remains must be distributed more justly. Unions disagree whether demanding drastic reduction in working hours with full wage compensation is realistic. Since many are ready to work longer for less money if they can only keep their job, it seems only consistent that they would not be unwilling today under this condition to offset endured wage losses through much less work.

A new type of nature-friendly and human-friendly work must be paid with a citizen income financed through tax justice. This basic income making people independent would justify speaking of a citizen state where everyone can live in dignity.

Such a state would have another possibility of creating jobs when it is an employer itself. Profits from effective management of partly communally-owned property could be invested in citizen income. This is not a stubborn relapse into the ancient planned economy. All attempted revivals of the good old days are unrealistic Politicians have taken away all power from themselves through the boundless privatization of nearly all public goods. Whoever has no credit cannot join in the discussion according to the prevailing rules of the game. Whoever only manages debts cannot be creative.

In his polemical essay The Future of Unions, Oskar Negt emphasizes: Whoever does not want to abolish the dominant conditions as a whole will also not master partial aspects. Whoever criticizes the radicalism of the demand should remember only capital is radical at the moment. A mixed economic order is needed in which the market and planning are optimally measured out. Citizens could join in the discussion about budgets since the share of communally-owned property would be controlled democratically for the first time. When democracy does not include the economy, it is not a democracy.

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