portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

economic justice | labor | legacies

Brave New World: Book Review

"Social policy can support the economy when women are increasingly integrated in the working life, for example. Childcare must be assured. If a shortage of workers exists, a useable health care must be established.. But what happens if workers are in abundance?.."

Book review of: Warnfried Dettling, Politics and the Life World. From the Welfare State to the Welfare Society

By Walter Kuhl

[This book review is translated from the German on the World Web,  http://waltpolitik.powerbone.de/send199x/kva07.htm.]

Doesn't the step to independence promote personal initiative? Aren't the market and competition good?

Warnfried Dettling comments on these questions in his book "Politics and the Life World". To rightly appreciate his proposals, it is important to know why he was director of the ministry for Youth, Family, Women and Health from 1983 to 1991.

Dettling propagates more market and more competition. In his view, social services cannot be financed as in the past and must be offered better and more cheaply. Governmental bureaucratic organizations are too inflexible. They are not citizen-friendly or efficient. Therefore outsourcing services is better. They would be better if they were claimed in competition on the free market.

That the bureaucratic administrative machine is everything but citizen-friendly is a truism. Administration was never intended as a citizen-friendly organization. Administration should be a state task. The state as someone correctly formulated is the sum of all systems. State actions are carried out according to a certain interest.

Since we live in a capitalist market economy, the interests of the private economy, particularly the interests of banks and corporations, are emphasized. Thus the state organizes the social and economic life so business is fine and the economy flourishes. Citizens are considered a challenge for the system and must join the administratively organized practical necessities. Sometimes they should agree enthusiastically.

In any case, bureaucracy criticism is as old as bureaucracy itself. This criticism is also subject to interests. Whoever urges more market instead of state must also say what are the consequences. When social functions are transferred from the state to the market, the well being of those dependent on social benefits is certainly not in first place. Rather money savings and profits are central.

A de-bureaucratization can only be attained through a democratization of all areas of life since the market is only synonymous with buying and selling, not with democracy. The ability, possibility or impossibility of acquiring goods with money has nothing to do with democracy. Otherwise millions of children would not need to die of hunger and curable sicknesses.

Warnfried Dettling discusses four objections against shifting social services to private enterprises or initiatives. His plea for a reorganization of social security systems is established ideologically. The thinness of this argument is clear since it focuses only on redistributing costs and burdens.

The 1st objection says: solidarity is based on an altruistic logic. However solidarity is handed over here to the calculus of the market and competition.

Dettling sees that this objection has weight. Therefore he doesn't try to refute it but argues for the opposite. Selfless motives like altruism need not unconditionally have social consequences. Instead of this, he says a social order in which the socially rational is economically irrational can hardly be defended as a good social order.

How does the trick function? What is economically unreasonable is not social. He doesn't define what is economically reasonable but makes it dependent on financial pressures. He cleverly doesn't emphasize that social tasks can and must be subject to a different logic than the profit logic.

The 2nd objection is that: more market and more competition ultimately led to a privatization of the social.

He also cannot evade this reasoning. He had to give a dubious meaning to his argument. The idea of the market is not only a private arrangement, he says, but also a social space for alternatives and an instrument for redistributing power. This sounds better than getting the affected to develop personal initiative free of charge so we can shift social benefits. Still the same thing is meant. Reading the book between the lines makes this clear. For this reason alone, the book is interesting.

The 3rd objection says: the market and competition are unsocial. They burden the socially weak.

The opposite is true, Dettling argues. The market creates transparency in who and which groups receive how much for what reasons. He reduces social policy to the satisfaction of group interests. Then seniors, the sick and social security recipients are only groups that demand social services irresponsibly. Then the market is the means for identifying what services are really necessary. Dettling appeals here to a certain argumentation pattern. His argument foments envy since others receive something that may not be due to them. He ignores that many people in this country skim off the profits enormously and are still subsidized. Instead he plays off people dependent on social benefits against each other.

We come to the last objection: the market and competition can lead to undersupply in certain areas.

This is true, he frankly admits. However the state or commune could be promoted in this case. Our model doesn't release the communes from their responsibility. However it changes the justification-pressure. When in doubt, competition should prevail.

I have my doubts here. In this book, I didn't read any plausible reason for privatizing social services. I have a certain interest that people in this country have the right to social security regardless of their country of origin. This is a moral question. I don't need to explain further that state social policy is not moral. It cannot even be moral. State policy is always two phenomena: optimal support for the economy and a result of class struggles.

Social policy can support the economy when women are increasingly integrated in the working life, for example. Childcare must be assured. If a shortage of workers exists, a useable health care must be set up because otherwise no one would be there in case of illness. But what happens if workers are in abundance? Then the neoliberals pull the wool over the eyes of the sick and elderly. They are simply no longer needed. Class struggle is such a wicked phrase! Strikes and lockouts are part of the so-called "class struggle from above" when owners of capital have the power to play off workers against the unemployed to force workers to make concessions.

Warnfried Dettling's book "Politics and the Life World" supports this class struggle from above with the convenient ideological justification. For obvious reasons, he offers an orientation for reorganizing the social state into a social project.

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.zmag.org