"FULL EMPLOYMENT IS A LEGEND"
Social Ethicist Hengsbach
[The economic elite is unsocial or antisocial and believes a little sponsoring of social responsibility is enough. In this Spiegel Online interview, the social ethicist Friedhelm Hengsbach focuses on the deficiencies of the financial system and why the Left party in Germany (Die Linke) is successful. This interview published in: Spiegel August 30, 2008 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,574893,00.html.]
Spiegel Online: Mr. Hengsbach, you were one of the most passionate critics of Agenda 2010. How do you see things now?
Hengsbach: The reality is worse than imagined. People can have a basic security more easily than in the past - but they are under too much pressure. Withdrawing benefits does not mopti9vate anyone to work.
Spiegel Online: The number of unemployed has clearly fallen.
Hengsbach: That is one of the myths of Agenda 2010. The statistical data shows firstly the upswing of the world economy has relieved our labor market. Secondly, this upswing leads to more subcontracted work and limited time contracts. A third of the new jobs are part-time jobs. I would be cautious about euphoria.
Spiegel Online: Some politicians still speak of full employment.
Hengsbach: That is amazing. Full employment is a legend and obviously can only be explained as propaganda. Politics often takes place in a virtual space that represses real data.
Spiegel Online: The argument of the Left Party (Die Linke) sounds similar.
Hengsbach: Their success is the answer to a genuine social problem. Many feel the polarization of society, the slipping of population sectors into precarious working conditions, poverty and exclusion. That this development surprises the elites shows the real problem.
Spiegel Online: But how would you finance a greater social balance? The social treasuries are overstrained anyway.
Hengsbach: Since reunification, the social treasuries obviously have a revenue problem. But our society has not become poorer. The wealth is only distributed differently. Public spending must be financed by everyone. That this fails now lies in the weak position of unions. Take the demands for a minimum wage. The unions no longer obtain living wages. The minimum wage is now the ripcord.
Spiegel Online: Wage agreements are fine and good. Then the businesses go to Poland, the Ukraine and Asia.
Hengsbach: Production is not shifted where there are qualified personnel. For example, the auto industry seeks new markets and does not only leave locations on account of labor costs.
Spiegel Online: That was different with the booted Nokia workers in Bochum.
Hengsbach: In isolated cases, firms shift locations when the same article can be produced more inexpensively in another country. Ultimately this even creates more global justice. But the solution for us must be: seek alternatives, services instead of pure production work and more personal work. The future lies there. Employees here should be compensated when their jobs are wiped out. That the owner of capital receives the large share of the labor profit and employees and society only resign violates the sense of justice of many. The state should help out businesses when there are problems - as now in the banking crisis.
Spiegel Online: This crisis shows the limits of managers.
Hengsbach: Right. The present inability of the financial system to end the crisis could have a good result - the end of the hegemony of shareholder value. We could now limit the social risks arising through the financial system and the businesses. Europeans are already trying to control the structural irresponsibility of banks. The pressure increases. There is no parallel universe where traders can speculate completely separated from the consequences.
Spiegel Online: You denounce the economic elite very generally.
Hengsbach: I do not concentrate on greed or monstrous failures. The dominance of the industrial economy and the idea of shareholder value structurally caused the crisis. The economic elites have a micro-view and therefore are not open for social consequences of their actions. Politics has supported this - for example through demands for wage restraint.
Spiegel Online: Many in the economy feel completely responsible for society.
Hengsbach: They speak of responsibility but define this as a kind of Samaritan responsibility, sponsoring or four weeks traineeship in a seniors or youth center. Obviously it is very important that these people learn the homo oeconomicus is a creation or working model far from real life. But I am skeptical whether this will change their hearts. Managers do not need to be models but are exponents of their system. When they misuse their power as in bonuses of millions, mistrust grows toward the system, the institutions and - worst of all - toward democracy.
Hengsbach, Friedhelm: "Attac's Bank Tribunal: The Jury Verdict." April 2010
Hengsbach, Friedhelm: "Campaign Against the Week," October 2005
Hengsbach, Friedhelm: "Finance Capitalism Devalues Capitalism," January 2010
Hengsbach, Friedhelm: "The Market Must Serve Society," October 2008