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The Social State: A Wondrous Promise

by Robert de Lapuente Thursday, Sep. 06, 2012 at 8:33 AM

The social state is an instrument of social pacification. It was a reaction to the extreme social and political dislocations. While Europe sank into chaos and fascism, Roosevelt developed the social state in the US that was exported after the war to Western Europe.


By Roberto J. De Lapuente

[This article published August 14, 2012 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Joachim Gauck (President of Germany) understands the social state as only transfer payments, says Albrecht Mueller in his Letter to the German president… The social state is more than a direct-debt mandate and money-transfer. It is a macro-economic instrument.

Often the elites only seem to comply with the social state command because it is earmarked in the annoying basic law. Article 20 of this basic law insists Germany is a democratic and social state. This is regarded as one of the drawbacks of the basic law since democracy and the social cost money. But this is a one-dimensional view of the social state. In truth, the social state is a kind of security for the economy.

Because of the social state, distressed citizens are not eliminated as customers or become dead losses to creditors. The social state supplies needy citizens and those businesses and banks that depend on distressed citizens. The social state ensures financial management will not have to accept and write off masses of payment losses. The jobless does not disappear as an electricity customer, the sick as a buyer of necessary medicines who is financially numb and the citizen entangled in legal calamities do not fall out as clients and customers…

The social state is not only social to those who profit directly from it. It is also social for those with economic interests who play roles in the lives of these needy persons.


No country of the western hemisphere has as inadequate and partly non-existent social services as the land of unlimited possibilities, the United States. No other western country holds as many persons in prison. Ten years ago more than 0.7 percent of the total population of the country was behind bars. In Germany, there were 0.1` percent. The numbers may be somewhat misleading since zero-tolerance laws were passed in the US over several decades that dragged persons directly to jail. Tensions referring back to missing participation are undeniable. The affinity between a society that does not protect its needy and higher criminality is not a new finding. Those who only see a transfer benefit in the social state seem to have forgotten this truism.

The pressure to stay above water illegally if necessary grows when people who cannot help themselves – or temporarily cannot help themselves – are not supplied. First, people must eat; then there is morality… The social state protects the huts of the poor so the palaces of the rich are not occupied or torn down. The social peace innate to social state thinking checks the rise of criminality rates.


Imagine someone with no claim to help in a land of limited impossibilities. Questions are raised in the evenings that are already forgotten in Europe: What will I eat tomorrow? Will I still sleep here in three days? How will life go on? What if the pains become greater and I take nothing to counteract them? Some become criminal in full consciousness. Others go home, are eaten up in the inside and develop a depression. One could ask: which do you prefer – being criminal or being depressed? Can one be given a course of treatment for aversion to life? Afterwards persons often explode in violence.

The social state obviously does not heal the deep phases of life that can only be tamed. For example, it doesn’t treat anyone who suffers consequential damage through a medical malpractice. If this person has money, he doesn’t need the social state. If he has no money, the social state pays for legal remedies and the follow-up medical costs. Knowing this is tremendously relieving. One need not buy so many valerian drops in the pharmacy that would be necessary to drink without this certainty to lead a somewhat dignified life.


As mentioned, a wealthy person does not need the social state. People like Gauck do not depend on it. If they fall, they fall back on their savings or receive help from friends or relatives to keep their heads above water. Most citizens do not have these reserves. Reserves are quickly used up and friends who are employees themselves cannot give them any job. Personal responsibility, this slogan with which the social state is always run down, is something that can only be afforded by one who can oppose his or her own answers (i.e. personal responsibility) to the adversities of life. Everyone else needs guarantees and reassurance that are offered by the social state.

The immaterial assets of poor people are something that the materially wealthy do not need. How the governors of freedom fiddle about in the rights of freedom of the poor with Hartz IV and the residence obligation is another story (Hartz IV, the drastic German welfare reform combining unemployment benefits and income support and radically reducing the length of benefits, was recently ruled in violation of the German basic law).


The words “democratic” and “social” are mentioned in the same breath in Article 20 of the German basic law. This is no accident. “The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social state.” If it had only said Germany is a social state, the democratic part would result from that. If one read Germany is a democratic state without mentioning the social part, the democratic conception could be questioned. Democracy needs come-of-all citizens. It is not enough to teach that freedom of speech is democratic. The material basis for such freedom must also exist.

Democracy and the social state idea is the subject about which we could say with Plato’s theory of ideas: here is the ideal and the immaterial claim and there is the bodily and material basis. Both are connected, even if philosophy and theology taught us for centuries that the idea always weights more than the body. A mind has a hard time thinking when the body in which it dwells is not adequately fed. A body in which the mind is cut short can run but can never be come-of-age in the sense of the mode4rn theory of the state. Symbiosis is necessary. As phenomenology tried to abolish the sharp separation between the immaterial and the material, Article 20 of the German basic law is nothing less than a phenomenological start to democratization. The social is necessary to make possible the democratic.


Economic progress does not only belong to those who can afford it. All humanity has a right to share in the progress of human creative- and thinking processes. Pharmaceutical groups do not research for their business profit even if the system around us sees it that way. They research to give humanity a better life. Since humanity is rich and poor, sharing in progress must be made systematically possible. The system here is called the social state. The profitism of some branches can obviously not be warded off with the social state. A policy that rigidly limits the phenomenon is recommended as a flanking measure.

Social states do not have the support of all humanity. The social state could be a concept for the whole planet and not a discontinued- or phase-out model because it tries to safeguard the achievements of the human species for all members in its sphere of activity. “Create more social state to encourage more sharing in progress!” could be a populist slogan.

Human wealth does not result from the balance of accounts of rich ladies and gentlemen. Humanity is rich when its wealth is distributed to many persons. Unique specimens with vast funds are not evidence that humanity will fare especially well. Only individual persons will do well… The social state is a commission and claim to a world that is more and more able to provide for everyone. The social state is the attempt to successfully distribute these goods to everyone even if one no longer has the financial means of sharing in that world as a person in humanity.


Whoever only sees the money can easily urge restriction of the social state. But much more is involved. Transfer benefits that flow are not only a means to an end, a means for security, peace and sharing in prosperity. People like Gauck only see this means. The goal is a complete mystery to them. They are so fixated on numbers that they cannot see the true importance of the social state. The social state is not only a payment credited to accounts. It is rational and human, appealing to reason and feeling. It is certainly not a sentimentality that society affords. When they speak of transfer benefits, people like Gauck speak with an undertone showing they regard this money to the needy as a sentimental sacrificial offering. This is foolish and does not reflect what the social state really is. Since it is so much more, the social state should be strengthened and developed wherever possible, not restricted or ended.

Albrecht Mueller (editor of recently concluded his analysis of the social state by emphasizing its “wondrous promise.” The social state is far more than money transfers to accounts. Mueller is unfortunately right in saying “this promise has been violated and actively broken in many ways.” There are many reasons to oppose these violations and breaches.

COMMENTS – August 14, 2012

A very fine article. The wealthy and corporations profit from the social state. This must be made clear to more people.

Anonymous – August 14, 2012

For those people who stir up hatred against the social state and solidarity, spitting in a beggar’s cap is social because social ostracism is motivation for self-help. For President Gauck, Social Darwinism becomes the reason for the state. In Germany, “Mein Kampf” is clearly more popular for intellectual stimulation than Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid in the Animal Kingdom.”

Anonymous – August 14, 2012

An exact description of how the social state and democracy depend on each other.

Anonymous – August 14, 2012

A marvelous commentary. However you have a very romantic conception of the pharmaceutical industry. Prices are set to make shareholders happy. Medicines are only developed when they promise a profit.

If leukemia and leprosy could be combated through hair restorers and virility enhancers, most sicknesses of the world would have been eradicated long ago.

Gabriel – August 14, 2012

If we lived in fascism, then fascism is the dominant state form worldwide… The question could be asked: Is the person good for anything else?

Anonymous – August 14, 2012

This article beautifully summarizes my favorite saying of Rousseau: “Between the weak and the strong, it is freedom that oppresses and the law that liberates.”

Arbo Moosberg

…”Prison fare” is the other side of the “workfare” society. “Poor = criminal.”

Ulli –

The social state is an instrument of social pacification. It was a reaction to the extreme social and political dislocations of the worldwide economic crisis. While Europe sank in chaos and fascism, Roosevelt developed the social state in the US that was exported after the war to Western Europe. As everybody knows, the social state and the social market economy brought about a unique period of peace and prosperity.

The worst characteristic of contemporary time is the absolute historical forgetfulness of the “elites.” Merkel and Gauck, both pure-bred creatures of the DDR (former East Germany) and completely untouched by Western Europe’s history, are the right ones to revile and disparage the social state.

Since the 1980s, on account of massive lobby influence, regulations of the financial branch established after the worldwide economic crisis were gradually dismantled. People thought they could manage without these regulations. The result was the present worldwide economic and financial crisis.

Today the social state is being reduced. The consequences, the social and political dislocations, will be much worse.

Banana Joe –

After reading these lines, I hope to find a book in the bookstore titled “Dare More Social State!” Alternatives to neoliberalism are vital. I would gladly buy and read that book.


Free Internet book “Investing, not Betting,” 67 pages, Brussels, April 2012

Free Internet book “Enough is Enough,” 110 pages, 10 page summary also available

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Free Internet Book Ronald Blaschke Thursday, Sep. 06, 2012 at 3:40 PM

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