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Brave New Working World

by Ulrich Beck Thursday, Mar. 31, 2016 at 2:46 PM

Classical working conditions and social securities dissolve. Ulrich Beck speaks of this world as a world risk society that will be marked by risky freedoms. To counter this, he develops the vision of a citizen society. How can the state compensate for the loss of taxes through paid work?


By Ulrich Beck

[The following summaries of Ulrich Beck’s 2007 book are translated from the German on the Internet,]

*steam engine *railroad *chemistry *plastics *telecommunications

* mechanical loom *telegraph *automobiles * television *microelectronics

*coal/ iron-technology *photography *electrification *nuclear power *genetic engineering

*cement *aluminum *electronics *multi-media

*space travel






The dream of full employment was nice while it lasted. In the new reality, the bad news of the labor market is the victory proclamation of the stock exchange. Profits in the billions are arguments for mass dismissals. These facts have fundamental consequences for the state and society. The McKinsey capitalism of Deutsche Bank, Allianz and BenQ-Siemens plunges the economy and society into a credibility crisis. Even Porsche head Wendelin Wiedeking warns: “This can make our whole society unstable.” Whoever thinks about unemployment today may not be caught in the old conflicts around the “second labor market” “lowering wage costs” or the “state share.” Even a turbo-growth cannot revive the old full employment society. Ulrich Beck asks the explosive questions: how is a meaningful life possible if no job can be found? How is democracy possible beyond the full employment society?

“Whoever wants to save the affluent state must change it” (Ulrich Beck).

In his books, Ulrich Beck describes how classical working conditions and social securities dissolve. He speaks of this world as a “world risk society” that will be marked by “risky freedoms” through increasing individualization in life projects, mobility and self-provision. To counter this, he develops the vision of a “citizen society” where people engage voluntarily, independently seek new tasks with personal responsibility, serve the public interest and democratically form a newly revitalized “civil society.”

More and more is produced with less and less paid work. Jeremy Rifkin sees the end of work coming to us. However more and more persons willing to work with ever higher life expectancy press on the labor market. Therefore full employment for everyone will not be possible any more. The dilemma is that only paid work makes possible sharing in prosperity and social security, respect and equal rank in our society. Thus many new jobs must arise. Full employment is an illusion. There are better things to do, Beck suggests. The democracy question is raised anew with the unemployment question if the German “success model” now loses its foundation after the wars. What will be the future political models beyond full employment?

How should people organize their lives without the structures and disciplining that come through paid work? Isn’t the loss of paid work the reason for criminality, drug addiction and the decay of society, for Brazilian conditions in Germany? How can existence and social status be secured when they are not based on one’s paid work? How can the state compensate for the loss of taxes through paid work? How is democracy possible without participation in paid work?

Beck develops his model “citizen work” starting from these questions. “Citizen work” means being active in local self-government and political participation through active collaboration in community-relevant projects. (The ancient Greek Polis seems to rise up in which community life actually had its highest expression. Pericles is still admired today.) Projects in the third sector, as Rifkin calls it, can be found in health care, education, the environment, caring for the homeless and asylum seekers/ political refugees as well as art and culture. “Public interest entrepreneurs” ensure smooth order. With simultaneous introduction of a basic provision, citizen work in the third sector could offer meaningful work.

With the idea of a new orientation, Beck sees an historical chance in rethinking and action and ultimately urges financing citizen work instead of unemployment. Altogether this is a typical Beck book that plumbs the limits of the possible and surpasses them here and there. Whoever doesn’t go this way in his or her head doesn’t come to the new.

This “brave new working world” guides the reader’s thoughts to Huxley. With Huxley, everything is imagined, planned and assigned. Wishes or desires are no longer the forerunners of deeds. Everything is done as long as conformism is preserved. How can someone who is standardized be curious and inquisitive? These are reflections from his work. Happiness and totalitarian behavior patters depend on one another in Huxley’s Brave New World. What is Beck saying to us in his choice of a title?

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