THE SOCIAL STATE AS A CIVILIZATION ACHIEVEMENT
By Karl Mueller
[This article originally published in: Zeit-Fragen Nr.34, September 27, 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.zeit-fragen.ch/.]
On September 18, 2004 the journal Guter Rat (Good Counsel) read in East Germany published an interview with German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. To the last question about what he would say to the people who feel humiliated by the questionnaire for the new unemployment benefit II * because they "must sell their shirts", he answered: "Don't be made fools. In the East and West, there is a mentality reaching far into the middle class that state benefits should be taken even when one has an adequate earned income. No social state can afford this attitude in the long run without perishing."
The chancellor imme3diately received approval for this judgment from the president of the German industrial- and trade board, other SPD (Social-democratic party of Germany), the chairperson of the FDP and the leader of the German tax union.
Everyone knows persons in his or her environment who unjustly claim state benefits. The words of the chancellor occurred in an environment in which state or semi-state benefits may be massively cut with the "Hartz IV legislation" not only in individual cases but for 1.5 million persons in German stricken by long-term unemployment.
In a very targeted way, Schroeder's statements revive the prejudice that the social state is misused beyond all measure and that it is time to stop this at last.
An alliance "Social Justice in Hesse" that includes important welfare associations recalled the foundations of the social state a few days and opposed the trashing of the social state.
A glance at the official statistics of the federal German agency for labor is enough to refute the claim that unemployment and the problems caused by unemployment are a "mentality problem".
In Germany, 287,000 advertised jobs (including 227,000 that could be immediately filled) were open for 5.82 million job seekers (including 4.35 million unemployed) in August 2004. In a footnote of the statistics, it said that 35 percent of the total job openings were advertised by the employment offices in the 4th quarter of 2003 according to a survey. This means that around 5.8 million job seekers faced around 700,000 open jobs in August 2004. Of the 4.35 million unemployed, around 1.7 million persons (almost 40 percent) were long-term unemployed, persons without work for more than a year who will be affected by "Hartz IV" beginning January 2005. In East Germany, according to official statistics, nearly 45 percent of the unemployed are long-term unemployed.
That politicians are inclined to trash and insult citizens when there is resistance to their policy has a miserable tradition and was very widespread in dictatorships. At the beginning of October 1989, 15 years ago, the central organ of the SED (East German governing party) "Neues Deutschland" said about those who escaped the DDR (East Germany) that "many anti-socials without any relation to work were among these people. They all trampled on moral values through their conduct and excluded themselves from our society. Therefore one should not cry over their loss."
Thirty-five years ago Bertolt Brecht formulated the famous text "The Solution": "After the rebellion of July 17, the secretary of the writers' association distributed leaflets in which it said the people lost the trust of the government and could only reconquer it through double work. Wouldn't it be simpler for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?"
Informed citizens cannot be put off by these methods. They ask about the core of the problems: a policy that prescribes globalization, massive stock market capital and lust for power.
* The "Hartz IV" legislation plans a very comprehensive "needs test" before anyone receives support in the form of the new unemployment benefit II. To receive money, applicants must fill out a 16-page questionnaire that explores their living- and income conditions in minute detail.
REFUSING OUT OF SHAME
km. Central German radio (MDR) in a September 21, 2004 broadcast responded to the chancellor's quote on the "takings mentality" and reported:
"Misuse and unclaimed social benefits were analyzed in the first so-called poverty and wealth report of the German government (2001). As the conclusion, a takings mentality only appears to a trifling extent. Around 7 percent of the poor in Germany draw benefits of the state without needing them. However 34 percent refuse social benefits although they are so poor that they have a legal claim. These people refuse state assistance out of shame. The unclaimed benefits save the state vast amounts of money.
According to calculations of Caritas, needy persons refused 2.25 billion euro. Damage through misuse amounted to 0.15 billion euro. Experts believe that the scolding of the chancellor increases the portion of the needy who refuse money out of shame."
FOUNDATIONS OF THE SOCIAL STATE
Associations and initiatives from the German state Hesse published a "Social Charter" last week. Germany's social and ethical foundations are massively threatened in their opinion. In this "Social Charter", the dismantling of the social state and the division of society are denounced. Balanced reforms that do not fade out distributive justice are urged. The following text that emphasizes the importance of the social state is an excerpt from this "Social Charter".
"The social state is a civilization achievement. The social state is the "ideal of social democracy in the constitutional state" (German constitution). Since free enterprise instruments alone cannot guarantee social security, the social state is not an appendage of the market economy that can be reduced at will. Rather the state has the task of guaranteeing social security for all and pursuing a policy of social equalization. Democracy needs a social foundation.
The `Social Justice in Hesse' alliance champions a democratic, solidarian and future-friendly social state.
Democratic means for us that
- all citizens can exercise their constitutional rights
- no one is excluded for cultural, religious, social or economic reasons
- political and social rights belong together. A proper material base must be given as an indispensable presupposition to assure the dignity and freedom of people.
Solidarian means for us that
- all citizens are bound together with rights and obligations in a democratic society
- all citizens support one another according to their ability so that the stronger bear the burdens of the weaker
- the state as guarantor of this mutual solidarity has responsibility for the social security of all citizens
- all citizens and businesses must be mobilized to finance the social security systems corresponding to their output or efficiency
Future-friendly means for us that
- social security systems should offer a future without financial distress
- up-and-coming generations should have a future worth living
- investments in education, social security and infrastructure are indispensable future investments. They are preconditions for the developmental chances of future generations
Solidarity and social justice are inalienable standards of a democratic and social constitutional state.
With the UN Declaration of Human Rights, we see realizing social human rights as the indispensable goal of social policy. These include the human right to social security, the human right to work and the right to a pay that assures a dignified existence. Housing, health care, education and social services must be accessible to all people. These essentials may not be dependent on individual purchasing power.
Social security contributes to the prosperity of a society and prevents universal poverty.