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Modernization of the Welfare State: Don't Worry, Be Happy!

"The `modernized' answers are mostly a mix of bureaucracy criticism (the welfare state is paternalistic and incapacitating), economic austerity rhetoric (welfare state guarantees are a luxury in the time of a globalized economy) and fundamentalist market idolization (the welfare state paralyzes the creative energies)..." From the German
Modernization of Welfare: Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Editorial of Widerspruche 64

[This editorial is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.kleine-verlag.de/wider/edit/ed64.html.]

Widerspruche reenters a debate that began at the beginning of the eighties and in the meantime has passed through several versions and re-makes: "crisis of the welfare state", "reorganization of the welfare state", "positional debate", "welfare state and globalization" etc. Whatever the exact title of the respective versions, the dominant melody is the same. How much balance of social inequality should be politically ensured? How much protection and security against social risks should be guaranteed legally and materially?

The "modernized" answers are mostly a mix of bureaucratic criticism (the welfare state is paternalistic and incapacitating), economic austerity or downsizing rhetoric (welfare state guarantees are a luxury in the time of a globalized economy) and fundamentalist market idolization (the welfare state paralyzes the creative energies for economic production in the narrow sense and for the production of descendants). Closing the welfare state as a "feudal castle" is urged everywhere by the "modernizers" since the welfare state has a "very narrow view of happiness" and keeps people from acting productively and taking "their future in their own hands". The preaching of deregulation is heard here. The call to the "modernization" of welfare invites new thinking about inequality and justice. Individual readiness for risk is demanded in a society where social inequality belongs quasi naturally to the "game". With social games, there are winners and losers. "Don't annoy me!" A kind of intellectual mobilization occurs in these arguments that celebrates the neoliberal promotion of the social and ecological catastrophe as the victory of the reason represented by the total market.

The social majority consensus continually bids farewell to welfare state protection from life risks. Justice is connected more with "performance" than with "need". Chances of participation exist for everyo9ne. Private welfare full of splendor puts itself into the picture instead of guaranteed rights to social security for citizens and social protection of self-determined life designs. Wealth sees itself confronted with the challenge of assuming private responsibility for the poor. Joy in decisions and readiness to help is great and has its benefits. However in an instrumentalized form, it is first reflected in administrative regulations on income support... It is only a question of time until private readiness to help will be credited as income support.

A social-political change of paradigms threatens. The recurring abuse campaigns - most recently the call for "social detectives" - are essentially only another means for undermining the legal protection of citizens. "Abuse" will be removed once and for all when social rights are no longer claimed. The welfare state debate occurs today on the background of a development of inequality and social polarization. The idea that the state lacks funds for "social projects" and that society should be modest stubbornly dominates public opinion.

How did a social majority consensus arise for the sleek modern welfare state? What are the conservative arguments against the welfare state? What experiences are made in states that are praised as "shining models" here at home? Given the weight of the "globalization arguments", the view beyond national borders is more necessary than ever. How can the neoliberal hegemony be tackled socially and politically?... Must the welfare state be "cut down" so the society can function better?... Has the commodity labor been annulled as a central variable? How far are transfer payments restricted by reforms of labor market- and social policy? The similar prescriptions in the US and Germany show that the social regulation of the commodity labor is a central weak point for business interests in a globalized economy...

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