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Life is More than Capital

Ulrich Duchrow and Franz Hinkelammert focus on the mis-developments in the third world where for example privatization of the water supply led to higher prices. International conglomerates made profits on which they paid no local taxes.

Alternatives to the Global Dictatorship of Property

By Stefan Droessler

[This book review of: Ulrich Duchrow/ Franz Hinkelammert, Life is more than Capital, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  link to www.unterwegsonline.de.]

The end of the Cold War and globalization of the economy marked the 90s of the last century. The states of the former eastern block and many states of the third world euphorically opened themselves to liberalization of their economy. In addition there was the pressure of international financial institutions. However the poor lands have become poorer and the rich richer in the last ten years. Disillusionment has appeared in the industrial states since the collapse of the New Economy, the bursting of the speculative bubbles on the stock exchange and the failure of neoliberal model students in the so-called third world (like Argentina and Indonesia).


The Heidelberg theologian Ulrich Duchrow and the liberation theologian and economist Franz Josef Hinkelammert ask about alternatives to the capitalist market economy. Their goal is to overcome a vicious circle - the vicious circle between the "terror" of the world economy on one side and fundamentalist resistance on the other. The question about a just property order is the central thread of their analysis. In the first chapter, the authors discuss the origin of the property economy in antiquity ("absolute property creates poverty, debts and slavery"). By absolute property, the authors mean the total privatization of public goods and means of production. His thesis is examined in concrete examples. The "Jesus movement" and the early church appear here as a contrast society. Explorations of the history of ideas focus on the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.


The strength of this globalization book is in the last three chapters (VI to VIII). What are central here are alternatives to the globalized ownership market economy and the question what the churches can contribute. The guiding principle: "Life-advancing production must grow, not capital ownership." The authors do not propose the false alternative private property or nationalization but emphasize distinct planes of different forms of property. Thus the local and regional planes are stressed. For example, the cities and communities should develop communal ownership on land to evade speculation. In addition, the water- and energy supply should be nationalized and subjected to democratic control. Ulrich Duchrow and Franz Hinkelammert focus especially on the mis-developments in the so-called third world where for example privatization of the water supply led to higher prices. In this way, international conglomerates made profits on which they paid no local taxes. At the same time, the poor were excluded from the water supply. Capital multiplied while life-promoting production fell.


Proposals follow for taxing private property that eludes social obligation. Combating "tax havens" is part of this project, disclosing tax evasion by hiring tax investigators as well as taxing stock market speculation. The most prominent idea is introduction of the so-called Tobin tax.

The reflections on the interest economy and the use of alternative banks prescribe life-promoting production and decry speculation. What is primary is an evolution of the system, not a revolution. The economic order can be gradually rebuilt so it serves the public interest more strongly and less only the interests of the rich. The political program is: Fighting for the conversion of these little steps is worthwhile because they are attainable on communal and regional planes.

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