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The Loss of Respect of the Economic Elite is Enormous

The embedding of the market and the economy in the civil society is the problem of the 21st century. Tax havens or shelters in Liechtenstein and Switzerland must be closed. The wealthiest 400 Americans have more wealth than 150 million people. Time for Plan B, alternative economics, reduced working hours, community centers, labor-intensive work and infrastructures.

Interview with Peter Ulrich

[This interview published on 2/21/2008 is translated from the German on the Internet,  link to www.wiwo.de.
On the backdrop of the Liechtenstein - tax scandal, the economic ethics professor Peter Ulrich sees an enormous and accelerating loss of respect of the "economic elite."]

The social market economy in Germany could be damaged in view of the deficient morality of some top managers. "Once a seal of quality of the German economic system, social market economy sounds increasingly hollow in the ears of a broad population," said the director of the Institute for Economic Ethics at the University of St. Galen in Switzerland.

How do you see the so-called Liechtenstein-affair?

Ulrich: I am really astonished at what the new data shows. Whoever wanted to know could long find clear evidence for the gigantic extent of tax evasion from Germany to Liechtenstein and Switzerland. How else can the dramatic loss of income from income tax returns in Germany since 1990 be explained? The share of the "declared" income taxes in the gross national product fell considerably although the high and highest incomes are the only incomes that markedly increased year after year since then. In an opposite way, the share of income tax in internal revenue increased despite the stagnating middle and lower incomes. According to experts' current estimates, several hundred billion Euros flowed out of Germany as "discrete investments" into tax havens or shelters in the last 15 years. The principality of Liechtenstein has made this its "business model." This is now seen critically in leading circles of politics and the economy.

Is there a ne4w "zeitgeist" on the executive floors? Is the current manager generation only interested in profits without feeling obligated to the public welfare any more?

Ulrich: The neoliberal zeitgeist has drummed the credo of profit-maximization into people for 20 years. When everyone only maximizes his own advantage, the invisible hand of the market ensures that this is good for everyone (doctrine of shareholder value). This thinking operates like an ideological exoneration from moral claims of consideration of others. Whoever uses unscrupulous hard-as-nails business methods in dealing with co-workers, suppliers and the public is an "achiever" and gets ahead.

Do you believe the social market economy in Germany suffers through the conduct of some top managers?

Ulrich: The long creeping and now galloping loss of respect of the "economic elite" is enormous. Business policy of some well-known big businesses that once enjoyed a great reputation is partly just as disillusioning as the personal conduct of some of its representatives. "Social market economy"
once a seal of quality of the German economic system sounds increasingly hollow in the ears of a broad population.

Could the current debate increase the popularity of the left?

Ulrich: Yes. It would be a shame if the pendulum only swings back again from the pole of market radicalism to the pole of social budgetism. Both of these conventional alternatives are outmoded and block the view to the future, namely to the full development of the modern civil society in whose framework the market economy is embedded. This has nothing to do with "state interventionism." Rather the social-political prerequisites are created in whose scope the works of market forces and their practical consequences can be exacted on people. Real freedom in a modern society has something to do with purchasing power. The increasingly more extreme concentration of incomes and assets in an astonishingly small percentage of the population that is presently occurring is no longer compatible with the principles of a "civil society." (According to Gar Alperowitz, the top 5% in the US have 70% of the assets! Translator's note).

Title: Faith in the Invisible Hand of the Market is Over
Author: Peter Ulrich
Date: 2009.03.10 07:11
Description: The people will not be so easily convinced of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. On the contrary, people will have a clearer consciousness of the primacy of politics. The free enterprise framework cannot be left to lobbyists who pursue pressure-group politics.

Title: Globalization and the New Political Movements
Author: Peter Ulrich
Date: 2009.09.28 06:30
Description: Attac, a global justice network in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France, demands closing off-shore tax havens and debt cancellation for the third world. The word globalization has a certain function as a threat. Be flexible because capital is flexible and the state can do nothing! GATS makes public assets into goods, e.g. forced privatization of education, energy and water.

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