To overcome the division of society, we must learn to better understand the fears of the other side.
by Gisela Glaser
[This article published in May 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet.]
Our country is deeply divided by the Corona crisis. Some are afraid of the virus. They are afraid of becoming infected and sick, maybe even dying. For many, the idea is even more terrifying that they could infect others and be responsible for their suffering or even death. They are very grateful to those in power because they feel protected and sheltered by the measures they take. Others are afraid of increasingly harsh measures, their consequences and the damage they cause. They feel helplessly at the mercy of the decisions of the rulers and largely robbed of their basic rights. Many fear that the current situation could become permanent and that our liberal democratic legal system could be transformed into a dictatorial system of injustice. How can this division be overcome? The author pursues this question from the perspective of the Lateral Thinking Movement.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the mood and atmosphere in this country was completely different. There was suddenly a sense of togetherness that I had never experienced before on this scale. It was something like a spirit of optimism: "We'll get through this together! We stick together." People were there for each other, helping each other, looking after each other. Although the people kept their distance and were physically separated from each other, a certain sense of community was clearly noticeable. We felt as if we were all in the same boat.
Looking back, I realize that the longer the lockdown lasted, the more this mood changed. And when the first loosening occurred, it was completely over. People were tired and exhausted by the tension and effort behind them. And, most importantly, they felt that normality was not returning. The effort was not rewarded. I can't remember exactly when it was. I only know that I immediately contradicted myself inwardly when I first heard Horst Seehofer talk about the "new normality" that we would have to adjust to.
This "new normality" is characterized by
Fear, "social distancing" and increasing state control.
The magic word Social Distancing
In the following I will concentrate on Social Distancing, this new magic word. It means that we should reduce the contact to others as much as possible. The prayer mill-like justification is: to prevent the spread of the "new virus". If this was really the issue, all these measures could be a thing of the past! What then is the purpose? What is the goal?
The best way to find an answer is to take a closer look at this social distancing. At first glance, it is all about keeping physical distance. But the effect goes much deeper. By keeping distance, conversations, human closeness and community become more difficult. In addition, there are the masks. They have an even deeper effect. They remind people that the situation is still very dangerous. This keeps the fear alive in the minds and hearts.
Furthermore, these masks work as a symbol: they are a sign of submission and a muzzle. Masks show that we must submit to the Corona regulations.
That our basic rights are restricted and that we should no longer express our opinions freely. In reality, the masks hinder interpersonal contacts, conversations and non-verbal communication.
Social Distancing undermines in a very perfidious way the community and social coexistence. The devastating effects of this social distancing can be seen very clearly and exemplarily in the associations. They are regulated to the breaking point! What does a music association do that is no longer allowed to rehearse together and can no longer give concerts? How does it stay afloat financially, if it can no longer fill up the club's coffers through a street festival?
I live in a small town with about 6,500 inhabitants. There are about 80 clubs here! All of these clubs don't just live on and quietly pursue their hobbies! Rather, they are involved in community life in the city beyond their own club life. All this is currently falling flat - with what long-term effects?
Another example: Recently I read in the newspaper that the neighborhood help of a nearby town is unfortunately still unable to offer lunch together due to the Corona pandemic. However, for many people who live alone, this lunch is a very important opportunity to meet other people, talk to them and build community.
Another example: Recently I read in the newspaper that unfortunately the neighborhood help of a nearby town is still unable to offer lunch together due to the Corona pandemic. But for many people who live alone, this lunch is a very important opportunity to meet other people, talk to them and experience community. This is now no longer necessary. What does this mean for these people?
One thing is very clear, Social Distancing is much more than keeping distance! Social Distancing torpedoes the human togetherness and destroys any community in the long run!
But we humans need the community with others as urgently as the air to breathe! We need physical closeness and warmth, touches, hugs, tenderness and skin contact. We also need human closeness in the figurative sense, the experience of sociability, community and belonging. We need the exchange of experiences, thoughts and ideas and the discussion about them!
Very important for us humans are the encounters that happen along the way. Meetings that are not on the calendar. For example the meetings at the coffee machine in the company. Encounters where you perhaps only exchange a few irrelevant remarks - or just let off some anger. Don't underestimate that! With this we say without words: "I see you. I perceive you." Such encounters are important for the community! All this falls away when people work alone at home and only meet for video conferences.
But if everything that brings us closer to people, that makes it easy to get to know each other and exchange information, that promotes peaceful coexistence and community, if all this is made difficult and hindered, it has disastrous consequences! Then gradually a society develops in which everyone simply lives in his own little world and revolves around himself. If then the people day after day from all pipes of the so-called leading media with the always same distorted information are showered, nobody needs to be surprised if these messages are believed uncritically. Especially when logical thinking is hindered by the constant firing up of fears.
Abraham Lincoln once said
"You can deceive a part of the people all the time and the whole people a part of the time. But you cannot deceive the whole people all the time.
That's the way it is! Especially in times of the Internet, where people can get information from other sources. A part of the people has noticed the deception, does this and resists. This part of the people is constantly growing. This is of course not good - for the deceiving! That's why these people, who still do their own research and think, are devalued, ridiculed, denigrated, labeled as conspiracy theorists, nutcases, trivializers, corona deniers, covidians, and optionally as right- or left-wing radicals. The unwanted information is subjected to so-called fact-checks and "disproved" with distorted information. The result of this strategy is discord, agitation, hatred, denunciation and the increase of division.
What can we do to give this development a different direction?
I see this crisis as a time of decision. We, as the human family, must decide in which direction we want to go. Do we want to go further towards destruction and death? Or do we want to turn around and go towards healing and life?
If we want to go further towards destruction and death, we do not need to change anything. We simply have to continue as before.
But if we decide to turn around and go toward healing and life, we have to change something. - But what can we really change? Well, the best thing is to start by changing ourselves! This has two advantages.
The first advantage is that we can start immediately! Because we are the only beings over whom we really have power. We can't change anyone else because we don't have power over other people. Unless the other person grants us this power. The reverse conclusion is, of course, that no one has power over us! Unless we concede this power to others.
The second advantage is: If we change ourselves, this has an effect on our environment. It must also change. It can no longer remain as it is. However: Which changes are triggered by us is not in our hands!
What can we change about ourselves?
What can we contribute to building bridges and overcoming division?
Of course, each and every one of us must answer this question for himself or herself. Because we are very different personalities. We have different attitudes and opinions. We think and act differently. Therefore I can only give food for thought and suggestions.
It's a good start that we consciously replace social distancing with human closeness: meet other people in a fundamentally friendly way, smile at them, look for eye contact, use chance encounters for a chat, remain friendly in critical situations, or at least polite - in short, that we do everything we can to promote peaceful and loving cooperation.
Important: Do not split yourself!
Furthermore, I think it is very important that we do not participate in the division ourselves. That we make ourselves aware again and again that we all belong together, all belong to the human family.
To the human family also belong those who feel really endangered by the "novel virus" and who are grateful to the rulers for all protective measures. The human family also includes those for whom these orders are gradually becoming a nuisance and too much to bear, but who accept them for all kinds of reasons. To the human family also belong those who overzealously observe all the rules. And also those who in their overzealousness denounce others who do not meticulously observe the rules.
The human family also includes those whom we easily and quickly see as our adversaries:
the civil servants and employees in authorities who issue inhuman decrees, the employees of public health offices who order quarantines and issue inhumane implementation regulations, the mainstream journalists who still make themselves the mouthpiece of those in power completely uncritically, the policemen who break up peaceful demonstrations, carry peaceful people off the streets, sometimes very violently.
The human family also includes those who have brought this crisis upon us! No matter what their names are or what position they are in: Angela Merkel, Jens Spahn, Christian Drosten, Lothar Wieler, Karl Lauterbach, but also the WHO President Tedros Ghebreyesus and Bill Gates. They all also belong to the human family!
But what does that mean in practice?
If we really want to overcome division and build bridges, it is essential that we treat ourselves and others as we would like to be treated. I learned in my childhood:
"What you do not want done to you, do not do to others!"
For me this means that I want to treat myself and others with respect and love. I want to forgive myself that I have not always succeeded in doing this. I am still at the beginning of my change process!
If we really want to treat others respectfully and respect their dignity, then we can no longer talk about "sleeping sheep", for example. Then we can no longer enjoy and distribute videos that ridicule and degrade others - even if they are called Angela Merkel! Then we can also no longer cheer and applaud these posters with Merkel, Spahn and co. in prison clothing, as happened on August 29, 2020 in Berlin. Putting people into such prisoner suits takes away their dignity. And portraying people in this way also violates their dignity. How can we insist that human dignity is sacrosanct and even in the next breath degrade others?
Perhaps you think you have not read correctly. Treat those who instigated this crisis with respect and do not violate their dignity? Who abuse their power to enforce injustice? Who ensure that this injustice continues and even increases? With whom should we treat them respectfully and not violate their dignity?
Yes, I know that this is a lot to ask - almost impossible to completely utopian! I know this from my own experience. I know what it feels like to be bursting with rage, to be stunned and horrified, desperate, depressed, without hope. I myself have gone through all these emotional states in the past months. And yet, when we stand up for the Basic Law and consider the dignity of the human being as the most important good, we make ourselves untrustworthy if we ourselves violate the dignity of others!
If we decide to see this crisis as an opportunity, as a chance for healing for the human family, then there is no way around attributing the highest value to respect, dignity and love!
And one more thing: If we really want to overcome division and build bridges, we have to stop pointing the finger at others and complaining about how much "the others" are doing everything to divide. Instead, we must move forward and stop splitting ourselves: Here we are and there the others. There is a trench in between. Let us stop creating enemy images! Because enemy images are wedges that divide the human family!
I want to make clear what I mean with an example: When I read that Michael Ballweg had invited Donald Trump to the demonstration in Berlin on August 29, 2020, I was just horrified and shocked. How could Michael Ballweg invite this divider and agitator! He is the physical opposite of this peaceful and loving atmosphere of the Day of Freedom on August 1, 2020 in Berlin.
I angrily wrote Michael Ballweg an e-mail and announced to him that I would distance myself from him and his movement, both internally and externally, if he was serious about this invitation. I was really shocked and felt in a strange way lonely and no longer belonging. I have very few people in my environment who think about "Corona" the way I do. I was glad to have found people who share my view when thinking outside the box. The atmosphere of the day of freedom enchanted me. I had the feeling of having found a home. - And then this invitation!
It was as if someone had poured a bucket of ice-cold water over my head. Fortunately, the sky gave me a nudge and I could see that I myself was the one who brought this division into the world. This experience was finally the impetus for me to think about how we can overcome division. I still do not understand why Michael Ballweg invited Donald Trump. I still think this is a mistake. But this invitation is no longer a reason for me to distance myself from Michael Ballweg and lateral thinking.
Let us acknowledge that we are different despite all the similarities.
We are different personalities. We have different life stories and have had different experiences. We have different roles, tasks and interests. We look at the world from different perspectives. All this leads to the fact that we have different attitudes, positions and opinions.
AND: That's all right! Differences make life colorful and diverse! Differences give us impulses and impulses to stay alive and grow.
Of course differences always lead to conflicts. This is also a good thing and part of life. Where there are no conflicts, something is wrong. There is something wrong. Someone is either too considerate or someone does not get his due. Conflicts that are suppressed and not solved will ruin the living together in the long run.
That's why we don't sweep conflicts under the table, but put them on the table. And we do everything in our power to ensure that these conflicts are resolved constructively. That can also mean that we agree in the end, that we disagree and then consider how we can deal with it well.
I am always shocked and horrified by how aggressive and pejorative some people express themselves in lateral thinking chats, for example in Telegram. Or individual speakers on August 29, 2020 on the stage at the Siegessäule in Berlin. This does not fit in with this peaceful and loving movement!
Another example: Recently, a pedagogical specialist was sought in a caretaking center for children and young people in quarantine. As a result, a shitstorm broke out on all channels via the people responsible for this institution. They received numerous threatening and hate mails up to death threats. One can think about quarantine and its implementation as one likes. But to send threatening and hate mails up to death threats - that shows an inhuman inner attitude and does not fit to the way towards healing and life.
I am very aware that conflicts can only be solved constructively if both sides want to. As far as the current political situation in our country is concerned, this is obviously not the case at present.
Furthermore, conflicts on the political and social level cannot be solved in the same way as conflicts in the private sphere.
So what is to be done?
It is absolutely necessary that our movement becomes much bigger, that many more people join us. In my view, these steps are necessary for this:
We must bring the concealed information to the people!
We have to enlighten, inform and put the distorted truths right. Very important: We have to stick to the facts that are easy to verify and then put them in the right perspective. For example: What does a positive test result mean? What about the "alarmingly increasing" numbers of "infected" people? How are the "corona deaths" determined? From my point of view, the most important thing is to refrain from making assumptions about what might be behind this crisis! Nobody really knows! And such speculations only distract from the really important information and additionally fuel fear.
We must show ourselves!
That means to stand up together on demonstrations for our basic rights and demands! Clear, upright, absolutely peaceful and non-violent!
We must be inviting!
We are if we speak a clear language without devaluating, insulting, disparaging or ridiculing others.
We must use all possibilities, which the constitutional state makes available, in order to make our demands valid!
I am very happy about all the lawyers who are committed to this. Here I would like to expressly thank Michael Ballweg, who made these demonstrations possible only through legal action. I have high hopes for the legal disputes about product liability with regard to PCR tests and claims for damages under American law (1).
We must use our divine anger!
I will explain this term briefly. I distinguish between helpless, powerless rage and divine rage. The helpless, impotent rage comes from the gut. It makes us freak out, beat wildly around us - with words or with deeds. We only want to react, without consideration of losses, without sense and reason. This anger only destroys - ourselves and/or others. The divine rage is different. It comes from the heart, is powerful and purposeful. It is the anger that makes us say very clearly: "Stop, so far and no further!
Let me give you an example of what I mean: You may have seen the video with the speech of the Chief Commissioner of Criminal Investigation Michael Fritsch at the Querdenken event in Dortmund on August 9, 2020, under the motto "I am a patriot and not an idiot" (2). This man is filled with divine anger and gives expression to it. He acts very clearly, powerfully and purposefully. He has considered every word carefully, as he says himself. And he is certainly fully aware of the consequences of his actions. The power for this comes from his heart. As you probably know, he was promptly suspended from duty. I was very moved by his speech and I have every respect for this man. He has become a role model for me.
I would like to close with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
"Be yourself the change you wish for the world.
Lynn Parramore https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/americas-dire-inequality-demands-a-new-conceptual-framework-this-economist-has-one
The results are pretty sobering: even if the government enacted fairly aggressive policies to put money in people’s pockets, it would probably take decades to get things back to what we had in the U.S. in the 1970s. At that time, things were far from perfect, but there was more balance in the economy.
Unfortunately, mainstream economists do not learn post-Keynesian macroeconomics, so they may not see the full extent of how dire things have become. That was painfully obvious in Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. His famous explanation for inequality, which posits that it occurs when rates of return on capital are greater than growth in the real economy (and, by extension, growth in wages), is not really an explanation at all. It’s actually just a statement of what happens if the economy simply grows at a constant rate, what in the jargon is called the “steady state.” That assumption is also implicit in his recent book, Capital and Ideology. You can’t hope to reverse trends in inequality until you figure out what is driving it.
The problem of inequality is so urgent that it demands a whole new conceptual framework, which I have tried to offer in my book.
LP: Your work suggests that this process of wage repression is not natural and inevitable. Who or what has been holding down wages and how are they doing it? How do class conflict, politics, and the role of the Fed and doctrines like the natural rate of employment play into this?
LT: There are a lot institutional factors which have held wage increases below growth of productivity.
One is macroeconomic austerity, both in practice and as an ideology pushed by those who take an anti-labor stance. Political conflict also plays a role. This is behind federal inaction on labor issues and the rise of state-level right-to-work laws.
Employers also use divide-and-rule employment tactics in a “fissuring” labor market – you see things like pitting regular full-time employees against contractors or gig economy workers. When employers insist on non-poaching and non-competition clauses in contracts, maintaining stagnant minimum wages (now gradually increasing), and maintaining a low ratio of employment to the population (rising prior to the pandemic), inequality results.
Changes in trade and technology have also reduced labor’s bargaining power – think of globalization and outsourcing. But note that most of the 16 sectors examined in the book are industries classified as “non-traded.” The main exceptions are manufacturing, finance-insurance, information, mining, and agriculture. I have no doubt that import competition and outsourcing destroyed jobs in traded goods while contributing to onshore productivity. There is less foreign competition in wholesale and retail trade. Better inventory management and information processing pushed up productivity and generated low wage employment (think McDonald’s, Walmart, Amazon).
Economists, especially those at the Federal Reserve, used to talk a lot about the “natural rate of employment” –the idea that the number of people working is somehow determined by the market and ought not to be interfered with. In reality, this is just is a disguised version of another idea dating to the turn of the 20th century — which strangely, after around 2015, took over the mainstream — of a supposed “natural rate of interest.”
This notion holds that there is a certain interest rate which will keep the economy at the ideal place between overheating and recession. Natural interest rate theory says that the rate will adjust to bring the demand for goods and services into equality with supply. Milton Friedman’s old story relied on changes in prices, which empirically just don’t happen, to bring the economy into equilibrium at full employment. The same story was baked into the mainstream Phillips curve analyses used by economists, which assumed that getting too close to full employment leads to overheating and inflation.
LP: Why is wage repression detrimental to the overall economy? Some argue that raising wages will hurt us because we’ll pay more to buy stuff if the cost of labor is passed on to the consumer. Or maybe businesses will freeze new hires or look to outsource labor to other countries. How do you respond?
LT: While it’s true that outsourcing has played a role in holding wages down when it comes to businesses involved in traded goods, this is likely to become less important as supply chains are shortened in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some companies see the fallout of the pandemic and want to cut back on sourcing from other countries, and perhaps there will be some reshoring of jobs.
On the question of higher prices, if higher wages outrun price inflation plus productivity growth, it’s possible that you could see prices go up. But that has to happen if workers are to see their share of the national income recover from what has occurred in the last several decades. You have to keep in mind that wages still make up more than half of total cost of producing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The fact that price inflation has been flat for almost four decades is strong evidence for generalized money and real wage repression. Really, that isn’t a good thing for the economy in the long run.
But before you get too worried about higher wages causing higher prices, consider that employers hire in response to the overall demand for goods and services in the economy. Households in the bottom half of the size distribution get about half their income from wages and the other half from government transfers – things like Medicaid, unemployment benefits, Social Security, and so on. They probably have negative saving rates, so higher wages for them could stimulate them to purchase more, which is good for the overall economy. More hiring and better-paying jobs could be the result.
Legend has it that Henry Ford paid his workers well so that they could buy his cars, recognizing that wages and prices are not a zero-sum game.
LP: Are you concerned that employers will use the pandemic as an excuse to repress wages?
LT: Yes, but I hope that the pandemic will mobilize workers to pursue higher wages, even against the institutional barriers mentioned.
LP: You observe that instead of a single, unified economy, America now has two separate economies, a “dual economy.” What does this mean to someone newly entering the job market? How will working life look different?
LT: Of course, race, class, and gender come into play here. The share of the labor force forced into low end jobs has been rising steadily. More and more people will be caught unless there is economic structural change involving producing sectors with relatively high employment having demand growth exceed productivity growth over a period of years. Big Tech will not suffice.
There could be possibilities for health and retail in the Covid era, but laws and labor rules will have to change to realize them.
LP: Your research suggests that it’s not just low-wage workers who are impacted by the wage squeeze. How has the middle class been affected?
LT: Middle class income still mostly depends on wages. People in the middle class have seen their share of national income squeezed from above by the higher income (mostly from profits) of the top 1%, and from below by bigger transfers to low income households. The squeeze has amounted to around 3% of total income – not trivial. Their position is slipping, making things like paying for college or retiring comfortably more and more difficult.
LP: You note that another big factor in surging inequality is the benefits the rich have received from a rise in the prices of assets like stocks, bonds, and real estate, which produce capital gains. Who or what is behind this rise? Why is it a problem for people who aren’t affluent?
LT: This is a bit complicated, but let me try to explain. The story here has to do with both rising profits and interest rates and the decisions of the Fed.
Say you have an asset – you have stock in a company. The value of your stock roughly depends on the flow of income it generates divided by what economists call the “real” interest rate (adjusted to remove the effects of inflation). That is, the value is your stock’s return “capitalized” over time at the ruling interest rate.
Economists talk about something called “Tobin’s q.” That is the ratio of company stock market valuations to the total value of their capital stock. The level of q economy-wide tracks pretty closely to the corporate profit rate (net of taxes, depreciation, and financial payments) capitalized by the real interest rate. Financial payments, that is to say, interest and dividends, from business to households amount to 11% of GDP. Almost half of these payment, 5%, are going to the top 1%.
Why does such a large chunk of these payments go to the rich? People who own assets have enjoyed increasing rates of profits thanks to wage repression and low interest rates since the days of Alan Greenspan, who headed the Fed from 1987 to 2006. The Fed has held down rates with the explicit goal of supporting asset prices. In other words, the Fed gives the rich an extra boost on top of what they get from just rising profits due to wage repression.
Capital gains, or annual increases in asset prices, do not figure in the BEA accounts because they are not an actual cost of production. They come off the top of what the enterprise makes. Capital gains are transfers of wealth from economic actors who issue liabilities to those who hold them. In the conventions of national and financial accounting as practiced by the BEA and the Fed, corporate shares are liabilities issued by business and (mostly) held by households.
Any institutional sector’s increase in wealth is equal to its net saving. The BEA data show that business net saving has fallen short of the sector’s “holding losses” on equity (Fed data) due to rising share prices since the mid-1980s.
In plain English, more than 100% of net profits have been transferred via financial flows and capital gains to households, predominantly in the top 1%. Share repurchases are another, more recently popular vehicle for transferring business net worth to households.
Let’s repeat this point: Through various channels, including capital gains, more than 100% of business profits are getting transferred to households, predominantly in the top 1%. Depending on which source you look at, rich households today hold about 40% of total wealth. Given their access to profit income and high saving rates, my simulation model suggests that their wealth share might tend in the long run toward 60-70% — that’s far higher than it was even during the Gilded Age.
That level of inequality is detrimental to the entire economy. It certainly makes corporations more vulnerable to financial shocks, for example.
LP: Some politicians, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, have expressed interest in raising taxes on capital gains so that wealthier people pay the same rate on this type of income as ordinary people pay on their wages and salaries. Would this be part of the solution? If not, what might work?
LT: The only reason why capital gains are not taxed seriously is the political clout of the rich. They are zealous about protecting their offshore tax havens and “carried interest” while resisting taxation of capital gains.
Back in 1990, President George H. W. Bush (who with his class background certainly represented the well-to-do) was forced into agreeing to tax increases, with a “high” rate of 28% on capital gains. Bush was pilloried by Republicans for reversing his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes. Since then there has been no serious proposal, even though realized gains are visible and relatively easy to tax.
The top rate now in the U.S. is 20% on realized gains from assets held more than a year. In contrast, a poor person may be “taxed” at a 30% rate in terms of reduced benefits if she earns some extra money. Clearly this is unfair and helps to cement inequality.
So what can be done? Confronting the outsized power of capital in the U.S. requires bolder thinking than what you generally hear discussed in the political arena. My model simulations show how a 50% tax on gains with proceeds transferred to a wealth fund managed for public purposes could hold the wealth share of the top one percent to around 40%. That would be one approach to the problem. Similar proposals to help balance the power of workers with those of shareholders within companies date back at least to a plan proposed by Swedish labor back in the mid-1970s, known as the Meidner Plan, which almost succeeded in being implemented.
Corona and the state
By Armin Thurnher
[This article published on Oct 15, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,
Corona has brought an aggravation of the state problem into the world. What comes at the end of the global pandemic crisis is uncertain. One thing is certain: So far, those states that are led by vain, authoritarian, right-wing politicians have fared the worst. In any case, the Corona crisis is a dispute of systems. The article shortened here is the prelude to the "Falter" special supplement "Corona and us. The Pandemic and the Welfare State".
Crisis as a favorable moment?
At first the optimists had their say, who see only opportunity in every crisis. They announced a wave of improvements that would bring us the epidemic. More humanity, a better cooperation, cooperation among individuals and solidarity among states was the least they could do. A reinvention of capitalism in the spirit of brotherhood and a redefinition of modernity in the spirit of solidarity, a turnaround in the climate crisis and the imminent world peace were the least that futurologists like Matthias Horx predicted for us. The crisis was a kairos, an opportune moment to be seized. The end of the neoliberal paradigm was the least that could be expected. But one could not be sure whether everyone understood something even remotely similar. In any case, depending on the ideological preference of the commentators, the end was to be a strengthened, a newly defined, or a state that was cut down in the libertarian sense.
As in every crisis, the magnitude of the crisis seemed to prohibit "going on as before". On the other hand, the last crisis, the financial crisis of 2008, taught us that precisely this approach seemed the only conceivable one. People talk about changes, it can't be any different than that it will be different, and then you can't help but continue as before.
The hour of the welfare state
This is also the case with Corona. Soon it became much cheaper. A global epidemic struck the world, and national differences appeared. Utopias turned into dystopias. And this paradoxically, although the hour of a state had obviously come. And that was the hour of the welfare state. Even in a small state like Austria, where people had become so accustomed to their welfare state that they had lost the feeling of what it had to offer, its advantages could not be overlooked. The existing hospitals, which were in the process of being dismantled, the health insurance companies, which were in the process of being broken up, and the remaining health administration, whose neglect had been set in motion by a dilettante turquoise-blue government by closing the Department of Public Health (of all things!), offered clear advantages in their comparatively good condition compared with more advanced privatization and savings elsewhere.
Even in rich regions such as northern Italy, it was possible to see how a privatized health care system could be taken beyond its borders. In New York, outpatient clinics and intensive care units of hospitals were expanded into parks with hastily erected tents. In Austria, the intensive care units never reached the edge of capacity, partly because operations and preventive medical checkups that were not considered vital were postponed in the lockdown. From today's point of view, they overshot the mark, but in retrospect everyone is wiser.Rather, it was about a policy of fear for the enforcement of health measures, which the US psychologist Steven Taylor in the book "The Pandemic as a Psychological Challenge" names as a frequent tool of health policy. It is incomprehensible that even state-critical leftists like Thomas Ebermann do not really address these facts. He only hinted at them briefly in a lecture in Munich. The fact that state apparatuses scare people in order to be able to govern better also seems to work for critics of authoritarian statehood.
"With fewer liberties, state failure is paid for"
The politics of fear has also led to the fact that a study by the lawyer Halina Wawzyniak and the left-wing politician Udo Wolf, which was already published in April 2020 for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation under the title "State failure is paid for with less freedom rights" is hardly known.
Right in the foreword, the two authors of the study write
In all German states there are legal regulations for the containment of the corona virus, the Federal Infection Protection Act has been amended. The legal ordinances include restrictions on the freedom rights of residents: The right to demonstrate, freedom of religion, general freedom of action and physical integrity. All ordinances stipulate with whom people meet outside their homes and in many places even under what conditions they are allowed to leave their homes.
Nowhere is there any attempt to take the production of urgently needed protective equipment (PPE) into one's own hands with state regulatory measures and with reference to the Basic Law. This should not be a coincidence, but rather moves within the logic of the fight against the corona virus. According to the latter, residents pay for the state's neglect in providing services of general interest by restricting their rights of freedom. This logic in the fight against the corona virus could unfortunately become established.
Halina Wawzyniak and Udo Wolf
Great differences in the reactions of leading politicians
It is true that one of the strong right-wing men, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was among those who were the first to recognize the danger. The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz publicly claimed several times to have been warned by him. Austria's early reaction to the Corona pandemic was therefore due to a hint from Netanyahu (and, less often mentioned, from the incompetently managed Tyrolean pioneer cluster Ischgl and the neighborhood of the quickly infected northern Italy).
The Israeli president is an example of those right-wing, authoritarian leaders who are currently at the helm of the world. Unlike many of his more powerful colleagues, he did not play down the danger.
His early warning did not, however, save him from being the first country to declare a second lockdown, initially successful in containing the virus. Especially because religious fundamentalists, both Jewish and Arab, did not observe the rules of distance. In an archaic way, a conflict became visible here that characterizes Corona worldwide: the irrational against the state as the incarnation of rationality.
What is the virus for democracy, for the democratic state?
And at the same time the partial failure of this state. Corona is for democracy, to paraphrase a famous threatening word, our question in viral form: do we use the "reality of the moral idea", as Georg Friedrich Hegel idealistically defined the state, to promote the common good, in this case health, or do we conceive of this idea as tyranny over the unleashed individual? And are "we", i.e. our representatives, up to the task of taking measures resolutely enough to make them work, but not to overdo them in such a way that they cause unnecessary collateral damage? More than that, are statesmen capable of acting sensibly in that they put their own interests on the backburner and do not seize the opportunity that a crisis offers to those most in the public eye? Do they lead their people in the best possible way, that is, without lying to them unnecessarily, intimidating them, overburdening them, and conversely, not overburdening them with truths that could have harmful effects?
Authoritarian Regimes versus Liberty Rights
In Asia, the Chinese leadership intervened harshly and used the opportunity to show the West what state authority is capable of, for better or worse. At first, they denied the WHO any knowledge of the virus, thus delaying a swift and accurate assessment of the situation worldwide. Then it consistently enforced the lockdown in Wuhan and set an example that was to be understood worldwide. China claims to be the global leader and wants to be compared in its way of fighting epidemics with the USA, which under the leadership of Donald Trump set a miserable example. Corona as an advertisement for authoritarian-socialist state capitalism.
Conversely, freedom rights in the libertarian sense can be reinterpreted as rights against the common good. Corona brings things to the crucial point: Are duties that "one" (i.e. we in the form of the government) imposes on us sufficiently justified so that they are accepted as individual restrictions in the sense of the whole? Or is there that libertarian rebellion that rightly interprets every mask duty as a restriction of personal freedom?
Digitally fueled by disinformation, the debates about this are being conducted with increasing excitement. The novelty of the virus is responsible for the crisis. Because of this novelty, scientific clarity is missing. Because clarity is lacking, state control remains a driving in the fog. Good-willed leaders can discredit not only their government but also the state and democracy by taking the wrong measures. Those who are less well-intentioned exploit the situation primarily for their own benefit: to strengthen their authority, their reputation, their voter loyalty, and in the worst case, to undermine the democratic state.
Crisis as an election campaign tactic?
The American president spoke only of the "Chinese virus", but ignored the scientific advice of epidemiologists and pursued the concept of damaging democratically governed states. These are mostly urban, liberal and have a higher percentage of colored population. When Trump realized that Corona was indeed having serious consequences, he bet on a worsening of the crisis in these states. He calculated that it would benefit him in his re-election.
Historian Timothy Snyder rightly described this approach as bordering on genocide. Accepting death and only rethinking when it becomes dangerous for "one's own people" borders on the thinking of ethnic cleansers.
The two authors are certainly in favor of certain restrictions for health reasons, and some left-wing advocates of emergency situations also recall some left-wing basics:
Left-wing politics, which has learned from history, must not underestimate freedom rights. Defending liberty rights is part of the DNA of left-wing, emancipatory politics - because they are the basis for a society in which the free development of the individual is a condition for the free development of all. Without rights of freedom, social progress cannot be achieved, nor can socially just politics.
Halina Wawzyniak and Udo Wolf
It is significant that the study is hardly mentioned even by the left. Perhaps because some top politicians there, such as Katja Kipping, want to tighten the measures even more? Yet a leftist party that would have combined freedom rights and health for all might have prevented the protests against the Corona measures from soon being appropriated by the right. Even in left-wing circles one had the impression that one was already labeled a corona denier when one complained about the restriction of freedom rights.
The fact that since Germany once again ruled in a particularly authoritarian manner is shown by the fact that there is still a minister in Holland today who describes the introduction of a mask duty as contrary to fundamental rights. In Germany this would hardly be conceivable. How strongly the fear of Corona paralyzes even state critical leftists is shown by the fact that there are hardly any reactions to the deletion of anarchistic and state critical websites and authors in the slipstream of the Corona crisis. In Germany, unlike in the USA, this censorship has hardly attracted any attention.
The politics of fear is working and this is exactly where the problem lies. If one considers an authoritarian policy of the state apparatuses as necessary and even defends it vehemently oneself, this is the greatest success of the state apparatuses. Talk of the second wave of corona is misleading. It is a permanent wave that we can only contain if we overcome fear and finally demand what really helps against disease: a health system that ensures that even if the notorious herd immunity of Corona should prevail, as few people as possible will have to die.
Source: Indymedia from 11.10.2020