SHARING, NOT KILLING
By Friedhelm Hengsbach
[This reading sample of the 2014 book "Teilen, nicht Toten" is translated from the German on the Internet, www.westendverlag.de.]
"You can interpret the clouds in the sky and the direction of the wind. Why can't you interpret the signs of this time?" These sentences from the Gospel of Luke stimulated me to write this book. I see refused sharing as a sign of the present time. At the periphery of a world of prosperity, a violence erupts that rages with weapons produced in the center and supplied for killing. They drive countless persons on a hopeless flight from persecution and privation to the borders and forecourts of the center.
I see another sign of the present time in the rediscovery of sharing. A mental change and a rethinking were announced when the swelling bank crisis mutated into real growth weakness or growth inertia. More and more people doubt the persuasiveness of that thought current in which individuals competing with each other seek their own advantage although the generated prosperity should be distributed to everyone.
Open-minded economists insist: the conventional economic theory is unrealistic and wrong when it assumes a view of the persons where social relations and solidarity feelings are excluded. The overall economic output grows and social inequality grows simultaneously. The capitalist dynamic deepens the social division between privileged and disadvantaged groups. It undermines the solidarity of countries with the communes in Germany, in the European Union and at its borders and erodes the consent of many to democracy.
A change of the following priorities moves me. Persons who previously revolved around themselves and were self-contained now open the same space they claim for themselves to other fellow-persons. The chase for an aimless growth is condemned as dumb and harmful. Individual gifts and achievements are regarded as trifling compared to the conviction that persons are3 born as equals and have equal rights. The redistribution of a privately appropriated wealth is always a second step. The decision about the level and direction of goods production and about their distribution should occur at the source when the goods are produced. A society with a well-balanced distribution of income and wealth has a greater chance of creating inward and outward prosperity and peace – without weapons. Therefore, the urgent plea seems justified to me: "sharing, not killing"!
[Translator's note: "If we do not accept the necessity of nonviolent revolution, we will face the inevitability of violent revolution," JFK said.]
At the beginning of the new century, Wolfgang Thierse declared: "The justice question has returned in society." More than ten years later, the director of the Institute for World Economy, Dennis Snower, argued economics has bid farewell to a view of the person that ignores moral values, social norms and human relations. The Kiel Institute expanded "its realm from the traditional concentration on efficiency problems to justice problems." For years, a broad public criticized the increasingly unequal distribution of social wealth. Are we experiencing a turn of the tide in judging what the economy and the state are commanded to do?
In writing this treatise, I was inspired by two authors who thematicized social inequality and social polarization in the last year and reaped an unusual response, Pope Francis and the French economist Thomas Piketty.
"This economy kills." So the pope judges socio-economic conditions to which the majority and many Christians see themselves handed over as an unavoidable fate.
The pope opposes a fourfold radical "No" to the anonymous mechanisms. He sees whole groups of the population excluded from social life and treated like garbage and waste. He resists awarding a religious consecration to the fetishism of money and the logic of the market and idolizing them. He condemns the hegemony of the financial markets that do not serve the real economy. He warns of the growing social inequality from which social conflicts and wars erupt. The political and economic elites should take to heart the words of a bishop from the early church: "Not to share one's goods with the poor means stealing from them and taking their life. The goods we possess belong to them, not to us."
German economic journalists attacked these statements of the pope in his programmatic treatise at the beginning of his term in office. The pope is totally confused; he judges in a sweeping way and hardly differentiates. He does not understand how the economy functions. He is fixated on his experiences in Argentina and does not know the blessed effects of the social market economy that multiplies prosperity more successfully than alms.
The Poor are in First Place
How strange that the economic journalists picked out nine pages from the 270 pages of papal encyclicals and ignored his main interests. Persons in the rich countries and above all Christians should hear the cry of the poor. From a biblical view, this cry has a religious dimension because he God of Israel heard the cry of his people in Egypt the house of bondage and liberated them from this blazing furnace. Today, it is the cry of those denied a just wage, migrants who illegally care for the sick in private households, the women who are marketed as merchandise and the children sent away to beg. The society and the churches should grant a preferred place to those throw-away poor and respect them in their dignity. Poverty in rich countries is evidence that the immense bounty of goods gained by good management that is enough for everyone is unequally distributed. Therefore, trust in the invisible hand of the market or the automatic trickle-down effects of prosperity sounds naïve. Rather, the principle that the goods of the earth are meant for everyone assigns the role of private enterprise and private property to the second rank. The growth of justice has a priority over a growth of the economy, the pope says.
With his work "Capital in the 21st Century," the French economist Thomas Piketty caused a sensation comparable to the pope. In the US, Piketty was celebrated as a star of a new world formula. His book was described as a "watershed" that changes our ideas about the economy and politics.
What worries or alarms Piketty is this opening chasm between poor and rich groups of the population in a democratic society. What tears societies apart and what holds them together? In his research, he sought an answer that includes empirical data, economic theories and historical, political and social perspectives. The distribution of the incomes of managers and workers randomly diverged since the industrial revolution in the 19th century. However, capital income has grown more strongly and faster than labor income because the growth of capital yields exceeds the growth of the people's income. For Piketty, "capital" is a collective or generic term for land and property, houses, securities, money, and patents. One cannot become rich by working as a physician. Rather, one has to marry a woman from a well-to-do house…
An exceptional situation began with the First World War and ended in the middle of the 1970s. During the "Trente glorieux" in France or the German "economic miracle," the growth rate of capital income fell below the labor income. What were the reasons for that according to Piketty? The massive destruction of capital during the war years, intensified tax laws, high economic- and population growth, technical progress and the higher education competence of employees were the causes. Market-radical economists in the US, Britain, and Germany promised a way out of the economic crisis since the 1980s if only the self-healing powers of the market were released, taxes lowered, public expenditures cut and wage demands restrained. As a result, the growth rates fell while capital profits skyrocketed.
If this development continues, the 19th century will return in the developed industrial countries in the 21st century. The importance of capital will increase and be concentrated with a few. A small group will have an extremely large share of the national income and the national wealth while the greater part of the population will have hardly anything more than their work capacity. The face of capitalism is changing. Rich employees and business managers appear next to the class of property owners.
The class society did not cease to exist with "modern inherited capitalism." The rich become richer and the poor remain poor. Wealth formation is caused by happy circumstances, wealthy parents or inflation, not by personal achievement. Excursions in lyricism that the rising tide lifts all boats or that the sparrows can live when the horses are well-fed only veil economic legends.
As an antidote against the inequality of income and wealth threatening political disintegration, Piketty recommends a progressive income tax up to 75% that could rise to 80% for millionaires. If this cannot be carried ou9t worldwide, the EU and the US should begin to introduce it regionally.
IMMIGRATION AND TAXING THE RICH
Interview with Friedhelm Hengsbach
[This interview published on 2/5/2016 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, www.berliner-zeitung.de. Professor Friedhelm Hengsbach taught Christian social ethics in Frankfurt from 1992 to 2005.]
Here is a question to the ethicist: Why aren't poverty and hunger legitimate reasons for protection? Are there simply too many people threatened by hunger?
Perhaps that is the reason. However, two interests meet here: the distress of refugees and the distress of the economy. In the phase of the economic miracle in the 1950s and 1960s, foreign workers were recruited in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, and Turkey as so-called immigrant workers. They were sought because the economy needed them, not for ethical considerations. People hoped they could be replaced after three years…
In its asylum policy, the German government tries to connect the ethically commanded with the economically useful. Is that possible?
The right of asylum could be interpreted more generously and a right to stay granted to more persons needing protection. Problems of the lack of skilled workers and demography would then be defused. But can the fleeing persons' right to protection be subject to the needs of the labor market? Whoever considers the stormy mood against the Great Coalition might suspect mixing the political dimension with commercial interests ends in a cul-de-sac.
Can you explain this?
Protection of the atmosphere is supported as soon as this is profitable for the company. The right of asylum is affirmed when it benefits the economy. Thus, there is no asylum or protection of the atmosphere when this is not profitable.
Whether refugees are useful is contested. Politicians of every shade and color warn of Germany's overload or excessive demand.
What is Germany? How many refugees have Pakistan, Ethiopia, Jordan, and Lebanon accepted in relation to their economic power? Who determines when the receptivity of the richest countries in Europe is exhausted? After 1945, 14 million persons came to the West. Many volunteers are engaged today in welcoming and accepting refugees in a friendly way! Germany is not overtaxed when politics acts correspondingly. The local communities should be relieved in personnel and financially by the Federal government. Debt brakes are irrelevant now. Mass lodgings should disappear. In Germany, there are 1.5 million apartments that are unoccupied. The right to private property is secondary compared to the great task facing us.
Do you demand expropriations?
The AfD (Alternative for Germany, anti-immigrant) says immigration harms the disadvantaged in Germany where immigrants compete on the labor market. Is AfD the party of the little people?
The AfD is a diffuse protest arena. Some feel uncoupled since the DDR's adoption by the Federal Republic of Germany. A middle class sees itself threatened by foreign infiltration in its value, its way of life or even Christian convictions. Others fear they will have to compete for low-wage jobs with asylum seekers. The immigrants are not the real problem.
Where is the real problem?
The real problem is the growing social inequality and the social tear between a minority that is well-to-do and rich and many in limited term employment, subcontracted or low-wage fields. At the same time, a campaign is waged against the needy. Hartz IV recipients are driven into a kind of work camp without jobs. All this is a result of Gerhard Schroeder's Agenda 2010. In this situation, an integration of the so-called foreigners would be too much for the competition society.
Then, AfD is right.
Yes, as long as the coalition maintains the policy of exclusion and applies this to refugees. If there were more redistribution from the top to the bottom, the disadvantaged would not need to fear immigration. But the Great Coalition is a poison that dulls or suppresses the open discussion of distribution questions and the political and economic consequences of immigration.
Whether people fear immigration or not has many reasons. The cultural milieu plays a role along with the living standard and the fear of social descent.
“Burrito Brigade,” Camilla Mortensen, The Eugene Weekly, 6/18/2015 http://eugeneweekly.com/20150618/news-briefs/burrito-brigade-cereal-people-feed-those-need
In Eugene, the Burrito Brigade is an all-volunteer group of vegan burrito makers. Beginning early in 2014, the brigade recently passed the incredible milestone of 100K burritos.
Portland's Potluck in the Park has been serving meals on Sundays since 1991 rain or shine. http://www.potluckinthepark.org/
The annual Christmas dinner is Sunday, Dec 24, 1-4 PM at the Oregon Art Museum on SW Park and Main.