Invitation to new thinking
Now is the time to use the corona crisis as an opportunity for social innovation, for the good of all
By Mechthild Schrooten
[This article published in Dec 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.derhauptstadtbrief.de/einladung-zum-neuen-denken/.]
One virus changed everything. Covid-19 has managed to do what all the discussions about climate change and justice in recent years have failed to do. Phenomena that threaten humanity are no longer a theory. The pandemic has made the risk of our extensive lifestyle tangible. For this global crisis is not an exogenous shock. Rather, crass, profit-oriented globalization has fueled its spread.
Crises are usually brutal - but crises always have an inherent potential for innovation. This also applies to the Covid 19 pandemic. This virus, which causes death and suffering, is calling almost all standard economic and social routines into question. The Covid-19-related innovation event encompasses all areas of society, not just working life and production. It's not just about spontaneous digitization. It's also about social innovation. In the past few months, social interaction in particular has been subjected to a harsh stress test - in short, new routines have been established in a very short time, of which the home office is just one keyword in this context.
Currently, comprehensive health protection takes precedence over returns - this has never been the case before. At the moment, health protection is more important than breaking even. It has also become clear that although socially necessary work is systemically relevant, it is often not adequately remunerated. This crisis highlights the problems of income and wealth even more clearly than was already apparent. The big old question is being asked again - with increased urgency: Where does society want to stand in the future?
And especially now, shortly before the wave of vaccinations promised to protect against Covid-19 is launched across the board, it is worth pausing for a moment. It is worth pausing not only to be prepared for what is yet to come, but also to actively help shape the future. Many technological innovations that help us to cope in the Corona world will not simply be pushed back again in a possible post-Covid era. This is already clear in the field of artificial intelligence. But how should the interaction around technological solutions be organized?
We need targeted social innovations that tie in with the crisis experience. A central experience, even if it should not be new, is becoming very existentially clear to us again, namely that being human also always means social togetherness. Individualism, competition and the market do not help us to survive this crisis well. And in all likelihood, we will be confronted with such phenomena even more often in the future. The frequency of crises in the past 20 years alone is an indication of this.
I therefore invite you to look at this crisis through a special lens. Crises are always also distribution crises; they are about power, design and not only in capitalism about money. It seems striking that in the current crisis, important players - such as the trade unions, the welfare associations, the interest groups representing parents and children, the elderly and others, but also the churches - are hardly raising their voices. Yet it is clear that we need more humanity in the long term.
But for years we had subordinated our humanity to so-called economic constraints. This could not go well - many people sensed this early on. This feeling was not mistaken. Therefore, even in the so-called post-Covid era, we should not want to continue unconditionally with all the old routines. It would be better if we questioned the strategies of the past. There should be no taboos in this process. Specifically, what has the relatively poor pay for work in systemically important areas brought us? Does the great inequality of income and wealth benefit us? Social innovation would also be to question the unconditional acceptance of high and highest returns for capital.
Like any crisis, this pandemic has produced winners as well as losers. The winners are mainly those who bet on e-business and digital. It is also clear that this crisis has come at a high cost. For individuals - but also at the general government level. The loans for the various government pandemic packages, amounting to billions, will have to be repaid in the future - such repayment is provided for in the debt brake. The distribution battle to shape the future has already begun. It would therefore also be a social innovation if the winners of the crisis were willing to contribute disproportionately to the costs of overcoming the crisis - so that the billions of euros for the government support programs do not have to be collected from those who have little anyway. Wealth levies and wealth taxes are the technical solutions for more justice.
There is a lot at stake here: cohesion and the future viability of our society. Simply going back to the way things were before Covid-19 makes no sense, because then we would have learned nothing from the crisis.
Prof. Dr. Mechthild Schrooten works as a professor of economics at Bremen University of Applied Sciences. She is spokesperson for the Alternative Economic Policy Working Group ("Memo Group").
Corona Measures: When children are the ones who suffer (1/2)
[This interview published on Dec 29, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=68268.]
What about children in times of Corona crisis? How do political leaders act when it comes to the welfare and protection of children? In a two-part NachDenkSeiten interview, childhood scientist Michael Klundt emphasizes that children and young people have become the most affected by Corona and its measures. "Most political leaders know that," says Klundt, who works in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences. Klundt criticizes Söder's slogan, "We save every life," which "doesn't deal with consequences and side effects at all." By Marcus Klöckner.
Mr. Klundt, children are one of those groups that are vulnerable and need special protection. What about the protection of children in times of Corona?
Well, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been saying incessantly since the summer of 2020 that "children should not be the losers in the Corona crisis. But unfortunately, children and young people have long since become the most affected by Corona and the measures against it nationwide and worldwide. And the special thing: All decisions since spring 2020 have been made over the heads of children and young people, almost nowhere are they involved or at least consulted or even informed about what is intended to be done with them. And the most vulnerable groups, such as children in poverty, homeless youth, refugee adolescents, and minors with disabilities, are the most affected.
But policymakers should be aware of that, right?
Of course. Most of those in positions of political responsibility know this, too. In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on August 21, 2020, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader in the German Bundestag, Ralph Brinkhaus, described his view of the Corona crisis and the measures that are now necessary. In doing so, he also addressed the fact that families and children, schools and daycare centers had somehow fallen by the wayside in Corona times, because, according to Brinkhaus, "they have been somewhat forgotten in all the aid measures for the economy and in all the health measures, but what we have seen is an extreme burden, not only for the children, but also for the families. That's why the priority now is on that, not so much on full stadiums at the Bundesliga soccer games and other things that I would also like to have back, but that are not the priority now."
That sounds like insight and a start.
Yes, it does sound that way. But: the CDU/CSU politician ignored the fact that the Bundesliga and DIY stores enjoyed the most generous openings long before daycare centers and schools were even given the slightest consideration, while, for example, the extracurricular educational and activity areas of children and young people (in the form of free open youth work) were still not given sufficient consideration even in the fall of 2020. The German Children's Fund therefore also expressed its fears for the future. According to it, "a great many children and young people will be lost" as a result of the measures taken so far. And Bavaria's Minister President Markus Söder then ultimately also let the cat out of the bag at the press conference on October 27, 2020, when he said, "School and daycare has, after all, the purpose of keeping the economy going." The instrumental character screams to heaven and there is no talk of education or children's rights.
The United Nations already spoke in April of this year about children being among the biggest victims of the Corona crisis. What is the basis for this statement?
In a briefing note of the United Nations from mid-April 2020, it was already feared that children were not the "face" of the "Corona" pandemic, but possibly among its greatest victims (United Nations 2020, p. 2f.). Accordingly, more than 1.5 billion school-age children and adolescents worldwide were locked out of schools and educational institutions between mid-March and May 2020 (cf. ibid., p. 7). Related to this, about 370 million children worldwide had also suddenly stopped receiving school meals in the spring of 2020 due to the closures and contact blocks (cf. UNICEF v. 29.4.2020). At the same time, life-saving vaccination campaigns against measles and polio for 117 million children - including in Afghanistan and Pakistan - have been halted for the time being (cf. UNICEF v. 5.5.2020). Nearly one-third of all affected school children (463 million) have also not received any replacement education at all during the entire lockdown period (cf. UNICEF v. 8/27/2020).
The consequences are likely to be far-reaching.
As UNICEF most recently identified, 265 million girls and boys still did not receive school meals at the end of October, more than 250 million young children under the age of five do not receive vital vitamin A tablets, and 65 countries report a year-on-year decline in home visits by social workers.
What is the current situation?
As of November 2020, 572 million girls and boys were affected by school closures nationwide - that's 33 percent of all students worldwide. "Disruption of vital services and increasing malnutrition could kill an additional two million children and increase the number of stillbirths by 200,000 in the next 12 months. In 2020, an additional six to seven million children under five will suffer from emaciation or acute malnutrition, a 14 percent increase. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in particular, this will cause 10,000 additional children to die each month. Globally, an estimated 150 million additional children will have slipped into multidimensional poverty - without access to education, health care, food, clean water and sanitation - by mid-year." (UNICEF 2020: Preventing a Lost Covid-19 Generation, New York/Cologne v. Nov. 19, 2020)
How do these numbers fit with the budgeted Corona policy and politicians who pretend to want to "protect" lives?
This is precisely my criticism. Those who point to the millions of deaths caused by the global lockdowns and many Corona measures like to be countered that they are trivializing the pandemic and probably want to walk over corpses. The absurdity of this argumentation should actually become visible with the help of UNICEF data alone. The government-friendly defenders of lockdown and measures should at least put effects, side effects, and collateral damage into perspective in an evidence-based testing and weighing process. When even pro-government studies on excess mortality in the U.S. and Germany find that "only" half of it is due to Corona, but the other half is simply due to non-treatment of other diseases (cardiovascular, cancer, etc.), this shows that the Söder slogan "We save every life!", which does not deal at all with consequences and side effects, is in any case not sufficient for this.
By the way, I think it is very important, and this is also laid down in the WHO Charter, that children's health is not just the absence of disease. The right to health for all people, but especially for children, is a comprehensive right that includes the participation of children, contact with other children, networks, the opportunity to exchange with each other, also to receive education. This is much more comprehensive than it has been communicated publicly in recent months.
Let's take a look at Germany. From a country like Germany, one would expect politicians to take into account the situation of children, to quickly remedy a shortage.
In the wealthy Federal Republic of Germany, free lunches in daycare centers, schools and youth clubs were discontinued overnight for millions of children and young people within the legal scope of the so-called "education and participation package" as of mid-March 2020 - incidentally, this has been the case again since mid-December 2020. Again, hundreds of thousands of students were excluded from so-called homeschooling due to a lack of digital resources (such as access to an Internet-enabled computer in the home), and many a teacher complained that they were unable to establish any contact with some schoolchildren during the entire first lockdown in spring 2020.
This is further underpinned by an October 29, 2020 report from UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank, which found that schoolchildren in low- and lower-middle-income countries have missed about four months of classes since the pandemic began, while students in richer countries have still missed six weeks of classes. However, the fact that poorer countries have even greater problems maintaining or establishing the human and children's right to education in times of crisis in no way justifies the fact that richer countries like Germany have also allowed and continue to allow such exclusions with their eyes open.
Even more painful than material restrictions can be defamation and stigmatization. Talking about (poor) children and their families thus also constitutes part of the social polarization problem, which can be denied less and less. This is especially true when the consideration of (child) poverty is characterized by an interplay between ignorance, crocodile tears and faith in fate. Particularly alarming are those debates in which the children and families affected are rhetorically given the labels 'self-inflicted' or 'antisocial', because then, instead of fighting poverty, the focus is rather on belittling and ultimately fighting the poor.
Is there now a continuation under the Corona policy of what was present even before Corona, namely the experiences of deprivation of children in our country?
Absolutely. Even before Corona, children's quality of life and future opportunities were massively affected by growing up in poverty.
How can you imagine that?
Disproportionately, they live in cramped conditions and thus usually without a quiet place to do homework. Although the limitations due to parental austerity are not the most important, studies show that a quarter of poor young people are affected by food deprivation, i.e. they are sometimes or even often unable to obtain sufficient or sufficient healthy food. While the permanent shortage worsens the family climate, the social networks are also smaller, since the children can also take advantage of fewer leisure activities - be it music schools or soccer clubs. Not least because of the lack of social esteem, many poor children therefore develop a lower self-esteem and start school with less favorable conditions, where even with the same performance they are often rated worse than children from wealthy classes.
What does this mean for you as a scientist? What conclusions do you draw from this?
Constant experiences of scarcity and deprivation during and after Corona contribute to the fact that young people who have to go through experiences of poverty in their childhood feel less comfortable and less a part of society. Based on the fact that young people who experience persistent poverty situations and receive SGB II benefits are less likely to be active in a club or participate in organized leisure activities than better-off peers, there is a risk that these young people will also disconnect from society as adults due to their lack of prospects - with far-reaching consequences.
In your research, you distinguish between causes of poverty and causes of poverty.
That is correct. Unfortunately, in politics, science and the media, causes and occasions of (child) poverty and of Corona (measure) consequences are still predominantly confused...
...and also confused in the pandemic?
Yes, this is the case. Thus, poverty causes, such as divorce, single parent status, migration background, or even unemployment, often appear as problem causes in a wide variety of statements from politicians, the media, and academia. They leave thereby the really underlying roots in the existing economic and social system faded out and consequently with these are exchanged. Yet a socially just family and social policy and a good education, care and labor market policy can make a poverty-free life possible even for children of unemployed, single or migrant parents.
With some reservations, this could even apply to the Corona pandemic, which is becoming less a cause than a reason for intensified impoverishment processes in the country and worldwide (unfortunately, not only in various authoritarian regimes, it is also becoming a pretext for breaking the separation of powers by overriding the legislative and judicial branches on the part of the executive, as well as through the most massive restrictions on fundamental rights and repression). Here, too, the pandemic should not be blamed too hastily on its own, but the underlying socio-economic as well as educational and health system causes should be taken into account, even if they all too often threaten to be overshadowed by the epidemic in the media, politics and science.
Just as problematic as the one-sided labeling of children as a "risk of poverty" or even a "cause of poverty" has been the largely scientifically unproven description and treatment of children as mere "viral slingshots" in the Corona crisis.
Could child poverty in the Corona Crisis be described as a kind of elephant in the room? It is, on the one hand, so obvious; on the other hand, policymakers don't really want to acknowledge it.
There's something to that. Especially since the situation even before the Corona crisis was far from idyllic. Child poverty in Germany today means poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. It must not be forgotten how many hundreds of thousands of people are now living on the streets again in Germany (according to Tagesschau.de v. 11.11.2019 over 678,000 people, including around 37,000 young people; cf. DJI study 2017) and how many people have to live from collecting bottles, begging or from Tafeln. For them, the slogan "We stay at home!" must have seemed somewhat alienating.
The government has taken a lot of money in hand to "help", as it is called. What do you think of the support effort?
The current government measures, despite all the investment packages, remain within the framework of a neoliberal organization of social inequality in favor of the few and to the disadvantage of the very many.
Please be specific.
If, for example, millions of people have still not received any subsidies and aid packages promised by the federal government by the end of 2020, but meanwhile large corporations have already been supported with billions of euros, then this is an imbalance. If, in addition, state-subsidized large corporations send tens of thousands of employees into short-time work co-financed by the solidarity community, but at the same time have billions in dividends to their major shareholders de facto financed by taxpayers or contributors, the same neoliberally structured pattern of privatization of profits and socialization of losses is indicated.
The federal government has not improved conditions in daycare centers. It accepts ventilation deficiencies and school buses that are full every day, while coaches that could be used to relieve school buses stand around. The federal government has still not improved conditions in extracurricular educational institutions either, such as open youth work, not to mention the situation in hospitals, nursing homes, public transport and the meat industry. There are no corrections there. Instead, the government is making daily appeals to the private responsibility of citizens to deal with the Corona crisis.
Appeals to the private responsibility of citizens. What is this reminiscent of?
Here, the neoliberal principle of privatizing all social and health risks continues to be talked about, acted upon and decreed. In addition fits then also that in pseudo nostalgic advertising filmlets of the Federal Government (from the future into the year 2020 as in times of war looking back) on nearly all television stations in November 2020 under the Slogan "special heroes" (obviously alluding to so-called war heroes) for the staying at home of young adults one recruits. Young people are thereby asked to "get moldy" with fast food and Coke in front of the TV, while neither the concerns of real young adults for their education or jobs and livelihood, nor the concerns of those (mostly young) people who are supposed to produce, prepare and deliver the fast food that the "special heroes" consume in front of the TV are taken into account.
That politics also uses instruments to influence the Corona crisis was to be expected.
Yes, but it's frightening how far some are willing to go in doing so.
What do you mean?
In the spring of 2020, a concept paper from the Federal Ministry of the Interior came to light that had it all. The government measures against the corona pandemic were to be anchored in the population and especially among children through shock and fear.
Children were also targeted?
Yes, especially they were to receive a regular education in the fear of agonizing grandparent death and related forms of guilt anxiety, depression and traumatization consequences. Literally it was said: "In order to achieve the desired shock effect, the concrete effects (...) must be made clear: If they (the children; M. K.) then infect their parents and one of them dies in agony at home and they feel they are to blame, (...) it is the most terrible thing a child can ever experience." In order to make the government's actions understandable, this was apparently meant to be talked into the children and their parents.
The U.S. author Naomi Klein has understood such a shock strategy, applied both militarily and in terms of economic policy, as a method of domination in neoliberal capitalism, whereby with each new catastrophe ruling classes in business and politics can redivide the world among themselves, while the majority of the affected populations are usually - as if paralyzed - still in literal shock paralysis. Surprisingly, the President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), also expressed himself in similar terms during the pandemic when he said in the Neue Westfälische of August 20: "The corona crisis is a great opportunity. Resistance to change becomes less in the crisis."
Media reported on the paper at the time.
They did. But they also quickly forgot about it.
Anyone who suspects that this could also be the current motive for political, economic and media measures is likely to be quickly labeled as a conspiracy theorist by factions that are loyal to the government. Such a suspicion would imply that we live in a society characterized by domination, even capitalist domination, and therefore also by interests of domination. And such views are not gladly heard.