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Neoliberal Definitional Power

by Oscar Lafontaine Saturday, Feb. 07, 2009 at 6:11 AM

"What is central is ending the constant expropriation of employees, not the expropriation of entrepreneurs." Market fundamentalists stylize every tax as expropriation as though they had no responsibility for paying for roads, schools, health care, police, fire departments and water-food supervision.

Like Sen. Bernie Sanders (interviewed by Thom Hartmann on Air America every Friday at 9AM), Oscar Lafontaine is a truth-teller defending the interests of the poor and the working class amid the capital-centered apologists for trickle-down corporate mythology.


Interview with Oscar Lafontaine

[This interview published in: Welt Online, Jan 4, 2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

In an interview with Oscar Lafontaine, Ulf Poschardt for “die Welt” celebrates the hopeless entanglement where only definitions conducive to the internalized ideology are allowed. The arrogance of media definitional power is decried. The journalist does not want to discuss; he wants to set meanings.

WELT ONLINE: Do you mean justice as equal opportunity or justice as outcomes? Justice is even conflated as “rewarding achievers.”

Lafontaine: These are deceptive terms of neoliberalism. Speaking of justice as equal opportunity is a bad joke in view of the gravely unequal distribution of starting chances.

WELT ONLINE: Only what fits in the neoliberal dualism is regarded as “justice.” “Justice of outcomes” is obviously false as socialist leveling or egalitarianism. Therefore justice can only be equal opportunity. Lafontaine rightly opposes social reality.

Lafontaine: With the lying words of neoliberalism, people are misled.

WELT ONLINE: You use the word “liberal” as a swearword. In the past, you were described as a modern leftist in the SPD.

Lafontaine: The equation of “neoliberalism” with “liberal” and the confused reproach is a sign of a spirit in which language goes astray and falls in ideological trenches.

WELT ONLINE: Do you understand yourself as a liberal?

Lafontaine: Just a minute. One of the leading thinkers of neoliberalism, Alexander Rostow said the state must listen to the economy. At that time a former German bank president said the financial markets controlling and ruling politics is not a topic anymore.

WELT ONLINE: Were you a liberal in this – admittedly crude – understanding of liberalism?

Lafontaine: I don’t know what “crude” means. The question is not even a bad joke but is simply embarrassing.

WELT ONLINE: In this conversation, you usually use the word “liberal” like many others as a swearword according to Wittgenstein’s dictum: meaning arises in use. You are now speaking as a polemicist. Are you joking?

Lafontaine: Unfortunately, Wittgenstein cannot reply. I think he would sue the word clown.

WELT ONLINE: Employees receive a wage.

Lafontaine: That is not much. Besides the increase of the firm’s assets, the businessman gets his profit and his entrepreneurial salary. Ending the constant expropriation of employees is central to us, not the expropriation of businessmen.

WELT ONLINE: You practice politics as a language game!

Lafontaine: To the alarmed ideological journalist, any resistance against homemade incapacitation is a “language game.” When market liberals stylize every tax as “expropriation” and someone comes who describes the game of appropriation and expropriation from his perspective, that is a language game,” a fantastic term of the great Wittgenstein that has nothing to do with the interviewer fishes out of history. Soon politicians will not speak about this anymore.

WELT ONLINE: Hasn’t the left understood that its form of social transfer as “minority status without personal responsibility” has increased precariousness?

Lafontaine: We have a different idea of responsibility than neoliberals.

The past German governments are responsible for “social transfers,” not “the left.” The argument that this is “minority status without personal responsibility” is neoliberalism in its most striking form. In an article I grappled with the theme “responsibility.” The ideologist does not explain here “increasing responsibility” and “come-of-age existence” and who in reality bears responsibility for what.

Charity is at the heart of Christianity, not personal responsibility.

WELT ONLINE: Yes, but that is practiced in Germany.

Lafontaine: Of course, your word in God’s ear.

WELT ONLINE: Charity is practiced very extensively in Germany. Isn’t there a left form of self-criticism concerning the success of social benefits?

Lafontaine: The contradiction is manifest since facts are not named and reasoning does not intrude. A serious interviewer is either reserved with his opinion or jumps into the discussion. On the other hand, Poschardt is certain of the applause of the rightwing when he reprimands the interviewee.

WELT ONLINE: Is a theme like welfare abuse taboo for you?

Lafontaine: I have no problem with the theme welfare abuse. There is misuse of welfare benefits. But abuses in society should be a theme, not a taboo.

WELT ONLINE: Now you are taking the other side.

Lafontaine: Don’t be one-eyed. An ideologist exposes himself by expressing prejudice. The left should compliantly adopt the association of “welfare benefits” and “misuse” that dominates public opinion. Lafontaine should renounce on his demagogic references to reality. Excellent!

WELT ONLINE: Do you believe in the blessing of redistribution?

Lafontaine: Redistribution is a classic deceptive word misused by those who gained great income and assets through redistribution of the fruits of labor. In the last years, the wage rate fell eight points. In other words, if we still had the wage rate of 2000, workers would have 140 billion more per year in their pockets. This enormous redistribution should be decried.

The phenomenon “distribution” can be seen from an overarching perspective. But the “world” does not want to hear this.

WELT ONLINE: How interesting! We lack a common language.

Lafontaine: Terms need to be clarified. Otherwise we will always talk at cross-purposes.

WELT ONLINE: Your definitions are understandable but not very marketable.

Lafontaine: One must be thankful for this openness. A princely “language game” succeeds here for the fool. He applies it in a marketable way and doesn’t clarify terms. The market defines the terms – the market of big publishers and big market actors, losers and benefit recipients. The term should help the market, its good reputation and those devoted to it.

WELT ONLINE: The German Left party in an Orwellian sense is a party with newspeak that builds its own semantic. The voters must share your definition.

Lafontaine: “Newspeak” is the rape of language by a dictatorial rule in which meanings are arbitrary and their application is a civic duty. This rule is manifest in this interview.

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