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by Kathrin Hartmann
Tuesday, Dec. 01, 2015 at 4:20 AM
In the past, social events and revolts shaped a generation. That changed in the 1990s. Identity is drawn from the consumption of brands. Therefore the public longing today is for better products and no longer for a better world.
“THE RICH ARE THE TRUE SOCIAL PARASITES”
Interview with Kathrin Hartmann on Hartz IV, Super-Gentrification and the Policy of the Tables
[This interview published on 5/2/2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.heise.de.]
In her book “We Must Stay Outside,”  Kathrin Hartmann  describes the increasing withdrawal of civilizing elements in dev eloped middle class society.
“Your book on one hand emphasizes the extensive dehumanization of society. People must submit more and more to the demands of the economy. They are increasingly reduced to the homo oeconomicus and the majority is narrowed to their partial economic function as workers and profit-sources for economic growth. Massive social exclusion mechanisms soon appear when one falls out of this process. On the other hand, you underline the enforcement of the middle class picture of the person and the world in all social areas: elite education, neoliberalism in politics, gentrification et cetera. How are these thematic complexes connected?
Kathrin Hartmann: They condition each other and are results of a neoliberal policy over years. We are all its victims in some form, even the upper class though they may not believe this.
Can you explain?
Kathrin Hartmann: Neoliberalism is sold to us as a chance or opportunity for more personal responsibility but in reality represents a challenge. Persons are made rivals and sent into competition. There are winners and losers in this rivalry. The economic losers, the new poor and long-term unemployed, are crystal-clear.
The upper class suffers in a status-panic. Among the rich, there is also a competition around membership in their exclusive club. It is not true that those without material cares are happy. The middle class is increasingly threatened by descent and therefore becomes ever more anxious. As the middle class goes down, it orients itself in those above instead of being in solidarity with the crisis victims. This happens out of the completely erroneous assumption that they belong to the elite from which they are separated by far more money and wealth than from the lower class.
The smaller the social distinctions, the greater the need to delimit themselves from the lower class. This is obviously fatal because the middle class supports all the political decisions that harm it. Through this competition, a de-solidarity actually arose that goes through the whole society.
Where does this development appear very strikingly?
Kathrin Hartmann: Gentrification is an example. The word is rather worn-out be cause this is still smiled at in the media as a lifestyle war of Latte-macchiato drinkers. An upgrading strategy of individual parts of town underlies this. Local communities have no money any more for social urban development and simply expand the economic upgrading processes.
The next stage that can now be seen in Berlin after gentrification is the super-gentrification where the middle class is displaced by the truly rich who want to stay in their enclave of the rich in the middle of downtown. The poor are expelled from their quarters. A consumer- and investor-friendly environment arises in the city where the economic elite earn huge amounts of money.
To what extent does the economy profit from poverty?
Kathrin Hartmann: In a country like Germany, poverty is not a fate but arises because employee rights were undermined to the advantage of the economic elite. Socially protected work has been destroyed. The less one pays for labor, the more profit is made. Everything is financed by taxpayers – for subsidies, tax relief and Hartz IV rules for employed persons who cannot live from their wages. Employees pay for the dismantling of their own rights and the shareholders divide among themselves everything others do and achieve.
What role does the Hartz IV legislation play in this process? 
Kathrin Hartmann: Hartz IV is a wide-ranging defamation program and isn’t simply only a social- and labor-market reform. It was resolved under exclusion of the general public with the help of McKinsey, Daimler and the Bertelsmann foundation etc without any democratic legitimation. From the start, it was carried out with an extensive discrimination campaign against the unemployed in the interest of the economic elite. [Hartz IV was a dramatic change of the German welfare system where unemployment benefits and income support were combined and the duration of benefits was greatly reduced. The German Constitutional Court declared this was in violation of guaranteed human dignity.] We recall Gerhard Schroeder’s “No Right to Laziness” speech and Wolfgang Clement’s paper where welfare cases were compared with parasites.
These reforms should not have been implemented be cause of discriminations against the “offenders” – namely the rotten or lazy unemployed, the social parasites who supposedly have a beautiful life at our expense. Justice has been replaced by the term “achievement justice,” that only “achievers” have a claim.
“The rich live very entranced”
While the share of labor falls as a source of national wealth, the share of capital assets increases. The latter is also favored or helped for tax purposes. The rich think they are exploited by the state and the poor. Can you explain that?
Kathrin Hartmann: The well-to-do increasingly feel cheated over their “just” share. Do they actually believe this or is this only a strategy so their wealth is not put in question? Several hundred billion Euros were involved in the bailout of the banks from which the rich profit because their deposits are protected and much money of the general public goes down the drain through general tax cuts to the rich and businesses and through tax havens.
Compared to that, the costs for Hartz IV are a joke. Therefore the social parasite reproach against the poor is ridiculous – the rich are the true social parasites. Effortless prosperity only exists for the rich though it is imputed to the poor. The rich of this world even increased their wealth 20 percent after the financial crisis.
The rich have no interest in being denounced and abandoning their privileges. On the other hand, they live very entranced by this society and stay in their own group so they can believe their own propaganda. Since they think in the criteria of the dominant economic ideology, they are probably convinced they are “achievers.” Have gained their wealth themselves and that their wealth is good for the country.
“DEVALUATION OF PEOPLE”
You researched the lower class for your book. Is the public picture of drunken and lazy Hartz IV recipients true?
Kathrin Hartmann: I didn’t meet this cliché in my research in social department stores and at the tables. I only got to know people who want to go to work and live from this work. Moreover I don’t understand why people are angry about these people and not that so many are excluded and brought into such humiliating and desperate situations. Alcoholism is a sickness and not a crime.
Obviously there are many people who suffer under depression and some suffer from alcoholism. However reproaching them for vice and arguing biologistically assumes their depraved nature, that the little money received from the state is guzzled away is impudence and represents a devaluation of persons.
You urge a more comprehensive concept of poverty  and not only interpreting poverty with economic data. Can you explain that?
Kathrin Hartmann: I believe worldwide poverty has similar causes and different faces. Poverty should be conceived globally and not only described in numbers and data. Forcing humans in key economic categories makes them anonymous and passive. People are poor because they can’t keep up any more in our consumer society and not only because they have very little money. They have nothing more to report and don’t report any more because they are permanently confronted with reproaches and contempt. People speak about them but not with them.
You traveled to Bangladesh and saw existential poverty there. What is the difference?
Kathrin Hartmann: For the book I was in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries of the world, for a month. In the rich West, we have a completely wrong idea of the poverty in poor countries. These are not people who wait for the white man to build them a well. I met many people who are extremely active and politically engaged and know exactly how they want to finance their lives.
This is the distinction to the poverty in Germany. People there are not despised for their poverty and have very different plans for fighting poverty. The ideas of micro-credits and social business so accepted in Germany meet with little enthusiasm among the poor. They suffer under the economization of fighting poverty. But poverty is not only material. What poor people in Munich tell me is more depressing than what people from Bangladesh say.
“An insidious view of the person defined Hartz IV”
What do you mean?
Kathrin Hartmann: Hartz IV recipients were occupied from morning to night with satisfying the orders of the office  and were all anxious…
At every turn, the authority interpreted everything against the recipients. They were regularly criminalized. A perfidious view of the person defines Hartz IV. Thus poverty in Germany represents a deficiency in acknowledgment and respect and not only a lack of money and possibilities for action.
The poor are stigmatized. Many say it takes a year to get back in the system when one’s job is lost. Then the apartment is lost and one has no friends and is simply outside. This excluded existence is the distinction between poverty in rich and poor countries although the causes are structurally the same. In Bangladesh I say solidarity soon ends as soon as economization comes into play, for example in the form of micro-credits. Economization plays off people against each other and sends them into as competition. Joining respect and acknowledgment to economic exploitability has fatal consequences for a society.
The neoliberal theoretician Friedrich August von Hayek said challenging capitalism, an economic system based on practical constraints and inherent order or autonomy by justice would be as sensible as calling for a just atmospheric pressure. However the greed of the rich, powerful and corporations is denounced in the public debate. Is Mr. Hayek right?
Kathrin Hartmann: The demand that the economy should show responsibility and bankers should not be so greedy is nonsense. Managers obviously enrich themselves at our expense. Not criticizing the individual banker for doing his job within the system when politics gives a legal foundation to this form of economics is completely ridiculous. Rather we must ask why politicians like Peer Steinbruch and Franz Muntefering who carry out the liberalization of the financial market and the economy speak of grasshoppers and greed for profit.
“EXCLUSION OF THE POOR FROM CONSUMER SOCIETY”
Why do you sharply criticize the tables in your book? 
Kathrin Hartmann: The tables stabilize the system. The tables collect the food left by supermarkets that otherwise would be thrown away and distribute it to the needy. That sounds super because it is so pragmatic. Food that would be destroyed is given to people who have nothing.
The tables show the exclusion of the poor from our consumer society because only the proverbial crumbs remain for the poor. It suggests we do not need to do more against poverty in this country because the poor are cushioned by the tables.
While the tables are helpful for people, the existence of tables in a rich country like Germany is a tremendous scandal. Should the poor be seriously thankful to be fed with garbage?
“SOCIAL CONDITIONS ARE REPEATED”
Kathrin Hartmann: At the tables I saw the deep chasm between the rich and the poor for the first time… Social conditions are repeated at the tables. The rich give and the poor take. That is like the 19th century.
The charity business is praised and supported by politics. This amounts to a declaration of bankruptcy. The tables collaborate hand in hand with economic businesses that are causally responsible for poverty through their production method. For example, the supermarket chains profit from the production of food under terrible conditions in poor countries. Statistically, the second most frequent human rights violations are committed in the food branch.
What is the connection?
Kathrin Hartmann: As supporters of the table movement, these chains of stores and food companies all have an interest that this system remains as it is since the excess has a purpose. The tables that are counseled by McKinsey hide the causes of poverty.
Poverty is moralized and individualized at the tables. There the poor are divided in the good and innocent poor and the bad greedy poor. Single parents and pensioners are seemingly least responsible for their poverty.
Does that mean the tables are not as just as assumed?
Kathrin Hartmann: Every poor person does not have access to the tables. The capacities are limited. In Germany, seven million persons are impacted by poverty. But only one million have access to the tables. Across Germany, the tables cover less than ten percent of the needy…
The stricken rely on the help of the tables and depend on them. But no one can make any claim. There is not legal claim to alms.
Every poor person cannot simply come to a table.
Kathrin Hartmann: No. One needs a permit that must be hung around one’s neck. One has to prove one’s neediness. Then the tables decide whom they will accept. One is taken off the list when one doesn’t come. One loses one’s access. Everything from beginning to end is humiliating.
One of my protagonists told me of a very unpleasant case at a table in a medium-size Bavarian city. His friend gave his food to a needy person who had much less. Thereupon he lost his access and was thrown out. Who gives and who takes is clear at the tables.
END OF STORY-TIME
They are educated, wealthy and in a good mood. They know the world is improved through quality consumption…
In the past, social events and revolts shaped a generation. That changed in the 1990s. Adolescents draw their identity from the consumption of brands. Therefore the public longing today is for better products and no longer for a better world. Mere stylist communities have come out of social movements…They believe they can connect hedonism and morality, egoism and social change in the political act of correct shopping…
Whether the world can become better this way is a very different question. Industry has long recognized the purchasing power and opinion power of the lifestyle ecos who turn off the advertising and paint the palette of products green. With rigorously recorded facts and fascinating analyses, Kathrin Hartmann upends the belief that the world can be changed painlessly. We print them on FSC certified paper. The world really needs this book.
To stop climate change, Hartmann says we must change fundamental things – that involves food, mobility and our general form of economics. With her book “Out of Uncontrolled Over-Exploitation” (Blessing publisher), Hartmann wants to show the hope of escaping the affair with a few detail corrections is deceptive. Our growth economy cannot be cleansed with a few trade sustainability seals and some emission controls, she is convinced.
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