(Debate between the devil, Mrs. Wagenknecht and a certain GJ. Original quotes from SW are in italics)
GJ: Released from ice are brook and river by the quickening glance of the gracious Spring.
MEPH: Say, will we discover even a single righteous person under the laughing sun of spring?
GJ hurries toward a tall figure in the merrily strolling crowd.
MEPH (whispering): Attention! This is no German Gretchen, this is a Teutonic Valkyrie!
Fair lady, let it not offend you, that arm and escort I would lend you!
SW: I’m neither lady, neither fair, and home I can go without your care.
However, the cheerful mood of spring puts me in a mild disposition. I am quite prepared to talk to you provided you have something to say. As an emancipated woman, I do not consider men to be fundamentally stupid. But no me-too! I strongly advise you not to try this on me!
Together, the three of them move to an invitingly decorated table in the garden of a sidewalk café.
GJ: May I introduce you to my friend Mr. M.? He is a great debunker, but you, dear Mrs. Wagenknecht, you can boast of an even sharper eye. You managed to scrape off all that glossy varnish from leftist hypocrites.
SW: It seems that our society has forgotten how to discuss its problems without aggression and with a minimum of decency and respect. Democratic debate has been replaced by emotionalized rituals of indignation, moral defamation and open hatred. That’s frightening.
MEPH: And I always thought the left stood for social justice, for brotherhood with the whole world, for altruism and commitment to the weak. If you declare that to be hypocrisy, aren’t you putting yourself on the sidelines?
SW: According to Piketty, there are two major groups that voted for left-wing parties in the broadest sense in the 1950s and 1960s and /didn’t do so any more/.. in 1990-2020. These are, on the one hand, industrial workers and, on the other, simple white-collar workers in the service sector, who since the 1990s have, of course, in many cases also been former industrial workers or their children. Today, it is the better educated and, increasingly, the better paid who vote left, while the lower half of the population either stays away from the elections or votes for parties from the conservative and right-wing spectrum. In Germany, the Greens have now replaced the FDP as the party of the high-income earners.
MEPH: Dear Madam, I sympathize with your opinions. But the same could be said by the right, the AfD for example.
GJ: Objection! Our guest says something quite different, namely that leftist hypocrisy made the insurgency of the far right possible in the first place.
SW: There would have been no Donald Trump and no AfD if their opponents had not prepared the ground for them. Left-liberal intolerance and right-wing hate speech are communicating tubes that need each other, reinforce each other, and live off each other. Instead of addressing the /people/… with a program attractive to them, the SPD and the left have helped the AfD to its electoral victories and made it the leading “workers’ party”. The political right is the big winner of the beginning 21st century. We have to take note of the fact that the majority of voters of right-wing parties declare protest, not conviction, as their electoral motive. /This fact/ shows that economic liberalism, globalization and social cuts have made many people worse off or at least exposed them to greater insecurities and fears about life. That the left-liberal journalistic mainstream has also given them the feeling that their values and way of life are no longer respected, but morally devalued. In keeping with this, AfD supporters in particular repeatedly criticize the “widespread selfishness, lack of togetherness, and striving for power and profit” in our society. In this context, one fact in particular stands out, which should actually cause sleepless nights to every leftist who still has any connection to their own tradition: the right-wing parties are the new workers’ parties… the AfD too owes its electoral successes to a considerable extent to the working class. The fact that it is the underprivileged rather than the wealthy who vote right-wing remains true even if the party in question advocates economically liberal policies oriented toward privatization and social cuts, as the majority of the AfD does, as well as the FPÖ or Donald Trump. In the 2016 election for the Berlin House of Representatives, 69 percent of AfD voters surveyed said they had voted for the party out of disappointment with everyone else. In the Thuringia election of 2019, too, more than one in two AfD voters confirmed that they had voted out of disappointment with the other parties.
GJ: So, you see the culprits in that academic middle class, which belongs to the winners of globalization. You speak of a lifestyle left that hides a frightening illiberality behind a deluding façade of liberalism.
SW: The Greens, in particular, are now the party of the academic middle class in most countries, voted for by software programmers and marketers and journalists and senior civil servants alike. In pure form, /they/ embody this lifestyle-left political offer, but it has also become the dominant current in the social democratic, socialist and other left parties in most countries. For the politico-cultural worldview of this lifestyle left, the term left-liberalism has recently become established, although left-illiberalism would be much more appropriate. What makes the lifestyle left so unappealing in the eyes of many people, especially the less advantaged, is its obvious tendency to mistake its privileges for personal virtues and to glorify its worldview and way of life as the epitome of progressiveness and responsibility. One does not want to be lectured about immigration as a great enrichment for our society by those friends of multiculturalism who carefully make sure that their own child attends a school where it only has to make acquaintance with other cultures in literature and art classes.The term white trash for the white American working class was also propagated by left-wing liberals. What also makes the lifestyle left less likeable, of course, is that it continually calls for an open, tolerant society, but itself often displays a frightening intolerance in dealing with dissenting views. In this respect it can easily compete with the far right. There is now even a term for campaigns whose declared goal is to silence and socially destroy disagreeable intellectuals: cancel culture. Another typical trait of the lifestyle left: showing a morally untouchable attitude is more important to them than actually implementing their concerns. The right attitude weighs more heavily than doing the right thing.
MEPH: But that’s an old story! How many heretics have been tortured, dismembered and burned at the stake by the Church of the gentle Lord Jesus Christ, although morally they were often the better people, whose only fault was to contradict some dogma. From time immemorial people had to profess their allegiance to an association and wave its flag. As long as one was an opportunist, he was respected as an honorable citizen and upright believer; even mortal sins could then be tolerated. The right attitude counted, the right deed was a secondary matter.
GJ: Ms. Wagenknecht not only criticizes, she also clearly states what has been done wrong. That’s what gives her words so much weight.
SW: Anyone who expects their own government to look first and foremost after the welfare of the local population and protect it from international dumping competition and other negative consequences of globalization – a principle that was self-evident among traditional leftists – is now considered a nationalist or even a Nazi.
MEPH: And that’s what he is. A true socialist is committed to ensuring that it is not merely himself and his neighbor who get richer and richer, but that the poorly off all over the world benefit from this progress. If companies from the U.S. or Germany migrate to China, that’s fine with him, even if thousands of jobs are lost here, because in their own country wealth is reduced at a high level, while in China, India or Africa it is created for the first time. The same attitude is expressed by allowing migration and thus providing a better life for people who could never hope for it in their home countries. Long live cosmopolitanism!
GJ: But you say, that even the apparent altruist who supports migration – if possible even to an unlimited extent – does so either because he is ignorant or because he is defending very tangible interests of his own.
SW: Everywhere, the opening to migration has been the reaction to falling unemployment and its consequence, namely that workers and their unions have become stronger and more militant. The most important interest group that has always had a pronounced interest in migration, lobbied vigorously for its promotion and facilitation, and often even took its recruitment into its own hands, is the business camp. And its purpose remained always the same: cheap labor and the division of the workforce. 2.5 million so-called guest workers were working in Germany when Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt ended this policy in 1973 with a complete recruitment freeze. In today’s SPD, he would probably be attacked for this as being close to the AfD. Today, domestic workers and immigrants are in direct competition in many areas, with all the ensuing negative consequences. After all, the German low-wage sector is one of the largest in Europe. One in five employees now works in this sector.
The same holds true for other Western countries. Already in 2016, 20 percent of all low-skilled jobs in the United Kingdom were held by foreigners. Migrants made up 43 percent of the workforces in bottling and packaging factories, and 33 percent in the manufacturing industry. One major beverage manufacturer in London had hired its entire workforce in Lithuania. That the migration issue thus became the key issue in the Brexit debate was hardly surprising. ‘Leave Europe’ means gaining control over migration; ‘Remain,’ on the other hand, means unlimited immigration, falling wages and cultural tensions.
A study on migration to the United States proves a direct link between the degree of unionization in individual sectors and the non-employment of immigrants. Although the U.S. allows almost no legal migration beyond high-skilled immigration, illegal migration is politically desired and therefore has not been stopped by either Democrats or Republicans for decades.
As for the consequences for wage levels, these rather tend to be obscured by statistics. As far as /they/… are analyzed at all, the average wage level of an economy is usually taken as a reference. The effects that can then be demonstrated are usually small. This is because it is not all employees, but primarily those without higher qualifications, who suffer from competition. This is why migration does not affect the salaries of Michelin-starred chefs, just as it does not affect the salaries of journalists, commercial artists, senior teachers or other occupational groups in the so-called knowledge economy. On the contrary, these people rather profit because for them many services become cheaper: from the cleaning help to the delivery person, who drags the packages ordered online into the chic old apartment, to the waitress who serves specialties in the sushi bar. So, for the academically educated middle class, more migration increases the purchasing power of their own incomes.
MEPH: Madame, you are a tightrope walker. You skillfully maneuver between left and right, between “on the one” and “on the other hand”. On the one hand, you defend capitalism as long as it provides workers with good wages; on the other hand, you think capitalism is bad because it makes the rich even richer. On the one hand, you think competition is good, as long as it provides cheap consumer goods for the classes with the least purchasing power; on the other hand, you think it is bad, if it promotes the survival of the strong at the expense of the weak. Where do you actually stand? On the one hand, you are on the left; on the other hand, you represent positions that were previously attributed to the right. On the one hand, you come from the left – you even saw yourself as a communist for a while – but on the other hand, you blame your own people, which is why you had to give up your position as deputy leader of your parliamentary group. On the one hand you condemn the terrible liar Donald Trump, on the other hand you praise his tariff policy.
SW: People not only pardoned Donald Trump’s vulgarities, foul language and sexist slogans, these have indeed been the secret of his success. With all this, he distinguished himself as an underdog, as an outsider and opponent of the political establishment, who was hated and fought by exactly the same forces by which the non-academic American population had felt betrayed and despised for many years. The common opponent earned him sympathies from the blue-collar worker to the conservative Southerner up to the strictly religious churchgoer who should have thought him a godless bully. That’s one thing. On the other hand, Democrats and Republicans alike have accepted the de-industrialization of the country and the destruction of industrial jobs with complete indifference for decades, while he /though having done little/ for workers and the poorer, has put the issue front and center and declared war on globalization with his tariff policies.
Now, as far as my relationship with capitalism is concerned, the incentive to develop new products and to produce in a more labor-saving way … is the reason why … /capitalism/ has driven technological development for 150 years and multiplied the material foundations for our social prosperity. That is the positive side of this economic system. /Capitalism/ works best in highly competitive industries where laws and strong unions ensure rising wages and high social and environmental standards. When, however, these conditions are absent, things look quite different. All in all, capitalism is not a beneficial economic order for an economy dominated by services. Digital technologies are conceivably unsuitable for capitalist economic activity because, due to the trend toward monopolization, they lead to extremely high profit margins combined with unprecedented market power. In many places today, capitalism is not an economic recipe for promoting prosperity and well-being, but the exact opposite. An extreme example is the poorest district in Glasgow, Scotland, which is home to a particularly large number of people who have been thrown off track by developments in recent decades. Here, life expectancy is currently just 54 years, 30 years less than in the wealthy London neighborhoods of Kensington and Chelsea. In the U.S., life expectancy for women and especially men from the old middle class and working class has been declining for years. Where’s the contradiction when I show both aspects?
GJ: I agree with you. You make a coherent point.
SW: And now for my assessment of right versus left. Right-wing in its original understanding is the advocacy of war, social cuts, and great inequality.
GJ: A harsh criticism. You are thinking of Joschka Fischer’s (Germany’s former minister of foreign affairs) support for the war in Yugoslavia?
SW: For example. But these are positions that many Greens and left-liberal social democrats also share. Saying goodbye to reactionary traditions is quite different from hailing as progressive modernization the dissolution of all commonalities and the disintegration of society into an indifferent coexistence of isolated individuals and selfish small groups. Most people love their homeland and identify with their country, and they do not want to be antagonized or morally degraded for it. When left-liberals declare war on the renationalization of politics, they translate that as the left no longer defending the welfare state. For people who are oriented toward communities, their family is not just any family, their home region is not just any stretch of land, and their country is something different from other countries. That’s why they feel more closely connected to citizens of their own country than to people who live elsewhere, and they don’t want politics or the economy in their country to be controlled from the outside. People who think this way and uphold the values described are called conservatives today. The term is not wrong. People who think this way actually want to preserve and protect from destruction a system of values that is under massive pressure in the globalized capitalism of our time and has already broken down in some cases. All these attitudes, which according to surveys are shared by majorities, can be described as enlightened conservatives. They are easily compatible with a fundamentally liberal basic attitude. In a deeper sense, they are even left-wing. This is because they correspond to the daily experience, the traditions and also the social interests of employees in non-academic industrial and service occupations and the classical middle class. In no case is the longing for social bonds … /the/ result of a subjugation, as one of the masterminds of left-liberalism, Michel Foucault, has claimed. The imprinting of man by his history and national culture is not a prison from which he must be freed. However, value conservatism, which is oriented toward belonging and community, not only has most conservative parties as its opponents, but also left-liberalism: The latter regards people with value-conservative attitudes as backward-looking and suspects them of cultivating outdated prejudices and resentments. But being conservative in values and left-wing at the same time is not a contradiction in terms. To put it bluntly, such a program could be called left-wing conservative, even if this term faces the risk of being rejected by both sides.
MEPH: And yet you are strangely out of time with your weighing of one against the other. Young people don’t want a yes-no. They want clarity, and they want to protest and to strike when politics and economics no longer suit them.
GJ: And that’s what they’re doing with endless hate speeches evaporating from the poisonous kitchen of social media. I, on my part, praise the clear, honest view of reality that Ms. Wagenknecht offers us. Only the outraged, the stupid and criminals take clear positions. Reason always weighs the pros and the cons.
MEPH: Did the reasonable ever make world politics? The owl of Minerva only begins its flight as dusk falls. But Ms. Wagenknecht is not Minerva and not even an owl; she beguiles us with her idealistic visions. If she had her way, the nation-state would again be equipped with the instruments that made a comparatively just capitalism possible in the three post-war decades – then everything would allegedly change for the better.
SW: Yes, the nation-state is not a defunct model. The leftist… /position/ consists in presenting the nation-state not only as obsolete, but moreover as dangerous, namely potentially aggressive and bellicose. /But/ there can be no question of the nation-states being incapable of action. In every major crisis, regardless of whether the banks are collapsing or Corona is dragging the economy into the abyss, the nation states, which are said to be dead, turn out to be the only actors capable of acting. It is not the international organizations but the large nation-states that are powerful enough to enforce compliance with certain rules even outside their territory. This power is now used particularly ruthlessly by the United States. The nation-states are… also the only entity that currently corrects market outcomes, redistributes income, and provides social protection on a significant scale. The fairy tale of the weak nation-state in our globalized world is thus primarily one thing: an expedient lie by governments to shift responsibility for the departure from the state’s former promises of protection and security to factual constraints. According to a survey conducted by the World Value Survey between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of EU citizens who feel first as Europeans and then as citizens of their nation-state ranges between 4 and 6 percent in the various European countries. The highest figure is in Germany, at 10 percent. Let us be clear: The highest level at which institutions for joint action and joint problem solving exist and which can also be democratically controlled, is not Europe for the foreseeable future, and certainly not the world. It is the much-maligned nation state that has been prematurely declared dead.
MEPH: And yet in your book you show that the nation state no longer helps the weak. You contradict yourself and agitate against Europe, thereby strengthening the forces of the right-wing camp.
SW: A malicious insinuation. I am only showing that the neoliberal corporate-controlled nation-state, which has denounced solidarity with its own citizens, no longer helps the weak. And I show that Europe, too, no longer fulfills its duty to ordinary citizens. Since the so-called European Semester was introduced in 2011, under which the EU Commission can exert direct influence on national budgets, it has called on European states a total of 63 (!) times to make cuts in health care and to increase the privatization of hospitals. Around 50 times, the EU Commission called on governments to take measures to stop wage growth. 38 times it issued instructions to restrict employment protection and dismantle more workers’ rights. And the European Court of Justice supports these policies. The common thread running through /its/ socioeconomic judgments… is unmistakable: they favor large transnational corporations and they worsen conditions for workers and small and medium-sized businesses. The European Union today, Thomas Piketty concludes, has become an issue that unites the educational and economic elites, that is, the upper class and the academic middle class, while on the opposite side it unites the classical middle class, workers and simple service employees, who in most countries are united in their rejection of Europe in its present shape.
MEPH: Madame, Globalization was not made in Europe, it was made by the United States. You disregard this fact.
SW: The globalization of production was… a politically enabled process under corporate pressure. Its motive was not productivity advances, but interests. It did not raise general prosperity, but made some richer and many poorer. It is estimated that one-fifth to one-quarter of lost industrial jobs are due to outsourcing. Whereas at the beginning of the 1970s, large carmakers had completed about 60 percent of value creation in-house, by the beginning of the 21st century, this figure was only between 20 to 30 percent. By 1983 alone, within the first five years of the Thatcher government, a third of all British industrial jobs disappeared. By 2012, one in two industrial jobs had been lost in the UK and France, and one in four in Germany. The sectors hardest hit were textiles, shipbuilding, mining and steel.
MEPH: Again, you’ve made a mistake – and a very big one at that. Globalization has not made some richer and many poorer, but the other way round: it has made many richer and some poorer. Almost a quarter of humanity, namely Japan, China and the Asian Tigers have become rich and India is about to follow suit. Only the old industrialized nations of the U.S. and Europe, a fraction of humanity in terms of population, have suffered losses because many of their industries have been taken over by Asia. If you think of the whole of humanity and not of that small part which for more than two centuries has enjoyed great advantages anyway, you can only welcome this development.
SW: It was politicians who lifted capital controls and opened the way for international direct investment. It was politicians who refrained from equalizing differences in production costs through tariffs or even from curbing international tax dumping. It was politicians who sought investment protection agreements and the global protection of trademark, patent and copyright rights in order to embed the foreign investments of corporations in the most advantageous legal framework possible. They did so because business enterprises and their lobbyists used all their influence, money and economic power to bring about the relevant decisions. But politicians did not have to do that. Globalization has extremely increased the wealth of the upper class and the economic elites.
GJ: On that point, I agree with Mrs. Wagenknecht. Globalization was not the work of altruistically moved cosmopolitans. American companies made China rich, they laid the foundation for the rise of the coming world power that is soon to push America from the first place, but they did this not out of cosmopolitanism and altruism but out of short-term interests and long-term stupidity, because with utmost effort they themselves nurtured their powerful rival.
SW: Left-liberal cosmopolitanism are… above all one thing: a particularly tricky justification, allegedly based on noble motives, of exactly the development that we have been experiencing for a good thirty years: a justification for the freedom of global profit-seeking no longer hampered by any restrictions by the state. This celebrated cosmopolitanism is above all an alibi to get rid of the ties and thus also of the perceived obligations towards the less privileged strata of the population in one’s own country.
I insist that we must not put whole strata of the population out of work. If we do so there will be revolutions like those in the Middle East and, to some extent, nowadays in the US. That would be a horror vision for right and left alike. If the left does not take sides with the disadvantaged, then the right will. While the parties that operated under the left-wing label in Poland had prepared the ground for a Wild West capitalism with extreme inequality, the much-maligned PiS adopted the largest social program in recent Polish history after its election victory in 2015. This included, as the most important measure, a child benefit of 500 zloty per month, the equivalent of about 120 euros, a huge sum in view of Poland’s per capita income. This measure alone reduced the poverty rate in Poland by 20 to 40 percent, and by as much as 70 to 90 percent for children. What left-wing party can boast such successes in recent times? However unsympathetic one might otherwise find the PiS, and however reactionary its positions on many issues actually are, this package represents the kind of courageous social policy one would wish for from all social democratic and left-wing parties in Western Europe.
GJ: Agreed! This is the policy that China pursued in exactly the same way, and that’s why the dictatorship can rely on the loyalty of its people to this very day.
SW: That’s right. While 82 percent in China and 79 percent in India have confidence in the institutions /state, business, and media/ mentioned above, only 47 percent in the U.S., 46 percent in Germany, and 42 percent in the UK.
MEPH: Madame, you not only praise the right-wing in Poland and Hungary but even the Chinese dictatorship. How can you still be surprised that many consider you a right-winger in disguise?
SW: A malicious insinuation! I’m just trying to understand why people are satisfied with a government that represents their interests and why, conversely, they refuse to vote for governments – whether left or right – that ignore them.
GJ: China has absorbed over two-thirds of global industrial production because it still has a vast reservoir of disciplined cheap labor. What Germany was half a century ago, but is now less and less: a welfare state, is exactly what China is on the way to becoming in our time. Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and the billion-strong nation now even enjoys health insurance for all. But in our country more and more people have to do without the standard of living to which they had been accustomed.
MEPH: Which means that your politicians have betrayed the common good? I cannot share this view. No, there were objective reasons for the economic restructuring they initiated. Almost half a century ago, former Justice Minister Horst Ehmke described Daimler Benz as a bank with an affiliated car division. “In 1981, the Daimler-Benz company earned more from assets, especially in interest income, than from the sale of truck and car production,” he stated before the German Bundestag on October 13, 1982. It was similar in the United States. “General Motors… makes more money from mortgages than from selling cars” (Roszak, Red Alert, p. 67). Markets were saturated, leading industries were no longer making money in the real economy, so they got involved in financial speculation. It was at that time, that economists like Robert Reich announced to the world that home production (together with the insistence on local content) was a mistake. The so-called Washington Consensus made this a dogma and called for a new economic order. This was the turning point for globalization. You Europeans could only watch helplessly. Once the U.S. had started outsourcing ever larger parts of its industrial production to China, German companies had no choice but to adopt this strategy as well. Otherwise Germany’s products would no longer have be competitive on world markets due to excessively high prices. Contrary to what you, Madame, would have us believe, German politicians and German business were forced to comply. The nation state was doomed to impotence.
GJ: Not quite. German politicians could have refused globalization. Then all German exports would have been limited to Europe. At the beginning of the 1990s, the effects of such a refusal still remained manageable. At that time, three quarters of German exports went to Europe, so the loss would have been limited to the fourth part of exports. I made this suggestion in my book “Die Arbeitslose Gesellschaft” (Jobless Society, S. Fischer). German economist Meinhard Miegel gave the following commentary: “Try to persuade German industrialists to renounce”.
MEPH: Such renunciation could indeed not be expected because globalization proved beneficial for a majority of mankind. The Chinese and Indians would simply describe Madame’s theses as absurd – that explains why they have so much confidence in their governments. At the same time, you have to acknowledge the fact that outsourcing, once a state (in this case the US) has started with it, has to be accepted by all other states if these want to remain present on world markets. Madame is studiously turning a blind eye to this fact, because it does not fit into her image of a sovereign national state. Such blindness also explains her harsh judgment of the Agenda 2010 of the then German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
SW: In their dealings with corporate boards and business associations, economic liberals like Schröder or Blair have usually only distinguished themselves from their conservative colleagues by an even greater subservience. /The existence/ of the low-wage sector /goes back /in part/… to the labor market reforms during the time of the SPD-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder, which had abolished many protective rights of employees and given companies the opportunity to replace regular full-time jobs with irregular employment relationships on a large scale.
MEPH: Again, Madame is simply ignoring an essential part of economic reality. After the Washington Consensus made outsourcing acceptable, the level of wages paid in Germany no longer depended exclusively on competitive conditions in Europe but also on the requirements of the world market. If low-wage countries sold products there at much lower prices, German export companies had to lower wages at home or they would have been forced out of the market. The companies in question were as powerless in the face of this external coercion as were the trade unions. Like economist Heiner Flassbeck and many others, Madame does not want to acknowledge this elementary fact. She seems to forget that German competitiveness was already in danger, which is why at the time the rest of the world derided Germany as “the sick man of Europe”. It was for this reason that chancellor Gerhard Schröder pulled the emergency brake. By making the German welfare state cheaper, he gave German exports a huge boost, but at the cost of installing a low-wage sector in his own country – the largest in Europe. For a left-wing party like the SPD, it was. of course, a terrible blow that a chancellor from its own ranks decided to take such a step.
GJ: As long as Germany excelled with innovations, it was hardly subject to external wage pressure, because companies can charge monopoly prices for innovative products, at least for a time. But innovation cannot be decreed from above. The Chinese now register the most patents worldwide.
MEPH: Madame is nursing a number of other illusions as well. Even without outsourcing, there will be no return to the conditions of half a century ago. I am very surprised that the term “automation” does not appear once in your book. But you omit automation for good reason, as it makes your vision a failure. Workers and employees whose function was to carry out mental or physical routines are no longer needed in modern economy because a large part of their work can now be done by robots and artificial intelligence. But those who are not needed are not paid wages. Of course, no company or state can be forced to use robots and artificial intelligence, but if it ignores or refuses this development, it will technologically lag behind and will produce with less efficiency and more expense. For this reason, digitization and the advance of job-destroying robots can no longer be stopped. This affects all the classic professions of the working class and white-collar employees – in other words, that part of the population which represented the majority during those three post-war decades praised by Madame as a model. Due to technological progress, this majority has now already largely crumbled away. How can you hope that their representation, the trade unions, will still play a role in the future? How can we use the tools of the past to meet the challenges of such a very different future?
SW: Private ownership and the pursuit of profit /can/ only advance technological progress and thus increase the economy’s potential for prosperity where competition works and clear rules and laws ensure that costs cannot be cut at the expense of employees and the environment.
GJ: Unfortunately, that is not true. Because of Agenda 2010, Germany as a whole became richer, there was growth again, only the less advantaged classes, the globalization losers, suffered. And as I said, while globalization made the losers in Old Europe and the United States poorer, almost a quarter of humanity has become wealthier since then – so overall the world got richer.
MEPH: Which is why Madame only receives applause for her theses in Old Europe and perhaps also in the United States. But my doubts go even deeper. There is something else – something really frightening – that she has completely overlooked. For about two centuries since the Industrial Revolution, the world assumed that resources were available in unlimited quantities. This hope was at the base for the demand for perpetual growth, which would eventually make rich everyone on the globe. But mankind has to dispense with this illusion. By now, it is already consuming more than a single globe (in the shape of non-renewable fossil energy reserves). But if we exhaust a non-renewable reservoir, then we are dealing with a zero-sum game. What some consume in excess, others must do without – now and in the future. Thus, in a world with limited resources, wealth for all becomes a mirage. The growth of some inevitably occurs at the expense of others. We would have to accept this objection to growth even if the climate crisis did not exist.
SW: Ah yes, the climate crisis. “Fridays for Future” and the left-liberal mainstream had turned the climate debate into a lifestyle debate, focusing on the demand for a carbon tax. The climate package passed by the federal government in response to /this/.. movement disproportionately burdens the lower middle class and the poor, as well as people living in rural areas. In order to save the environment and the climate, do we want to turn many of life’s comforts back into a luxury good that only the privileged can afford – or would we rather produce sustainably and with other technologies instead?
GJ: Please, that is surely the wrong alternative. With our actual growth mania we are heading for collapse if we don’t radically limit resource consumption. You admit as much at another place: Where will the energy come from to keep our economy running, to power our vehicles, and to supply our homes with heat and electricity if we do not want to use fossil fuels or return to nuclear power? Anyone who thinks they can solve this problem with a few more wind turbines and solar panels at today’s technological level has obviously never considered the energy needs of a society like ours, nor the fact that dark, windless days are very common in our latitudes despite climate change.Indirectly, you yourself admit that climate change and dwindling resources are forcing renunciation. The question is, who should renounce? You are committed to helping the poorest in society – and I am right there with you. If cutting consumption is not to lead to revolts within states and resource wars between them, then it has to apply to everyone.
MEPH: Very true, but the nation state is not in a position to enforce it. If it taxes domestic companies in a way that seriously helps the poor, they relocate abroad; if it makes the rich pay, they take flight with their capital; if it cuts the salaries of its most talented people – the scientists, computer scientists, doctors, etc. – for the purpose of redistribution, they will look for jobs elsewhere. Only new walls between states – in other words, worldwide deglobalization – could prevent such evasion. But this would still be of no help under present conditions. For each state would then have to find all resources necessary for its way of living within its own borders. It could not be allowed to pollute with its own waste the air and the seas of the entire globe and, of course, it would have to renounce the missiles and bombs with which it threatens the whole rest of the world.
Technology has forced globalization on you – not the malice of politicians. By now, you all find yourself in the same tiny boat because through technological progress you have made the globe so small that everyone can know in real time what at the same moment not only his neighbor in the same street but the people on the other side of the globe are doing and intending. Globalization produced by technology is your undoing.
SW: I insist that there is still the opposition of near and far. A key category for delineating communities is the distinction of belonging and not belonging. In an intact family, we feel more closely connected to other family members than we do to people who are not part of the family. We are more likely to support family members than strangers. And we have greater confidence that we will not be taken advantage of and deceived. This is not morally questionable, but normal human behavior. The more we feel connected to people, the greater the inhibition to pull the wool over their eyes. It is… /this closeness/ that creates a basis for trust.
GJ: Certainly, and you also provide an apt quotation from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Beware of these cosmopolitans, who in their writings promote far away duties, the fulfillment of which they contemptuously reject among themselves. Such a philosopher loves the Tartars in order to be above loving his neighbors.”
But despite this, and whether we like it or not, technology has brought all the people of the world so close together through an ever-increasing flow of resources, goods, information, and, unfortunately, garbage and bombs, that we are now forced, for our very survival, to trust those farthest away almost as much as those closest to us, because mere distance does not prevent even the most distant people from poisoning the air and the seas, irradiating the atmosphere, and melting the last glaciers. One can see in this an imminent danger, because the nation-state and its people have largely lost control over their own destiny. Or we can deny this dependence, as Mrs. Wagenknecht does. Or, finally, we can promise the rest of the world the gospel of an ever-growing and, what’s more, green economy, as China does, boasting that it is the most powerful engine of industrial production, world trade and global welfare.
MEPH: A blue-eyed vision that should rather be called a fraud, because China is well aware of the world’s dwindling resources. It is doing everything in its power to buy up land around the world and to secure access to resources in Africa as well as in Latin America. The battle for the remaining treasures has long since begun.
But I must add one more accusation. Mrs. Wagenknecht is blind to the real challenges that will make the situation of the poorest even worse in rich Western countries of the West. What we have been observing for several decades already is a global race for the best brains. After all, digital revolution has made technology even more complex and intellectually demanding. The most highly developed computer programs are already so extensive that DIN-A4 pages filled with them result in stacks the height of the Eiffel Tower. In a positive sense, we may call this a spiritualization of modern civilization. In a negative perspective, this development amounts to fewer and fewer people being eligible for these professions, because the Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence has not changed. The pool from which to draw such professions is therefore limited. Differences in pay will therefore inevitably increase, because the talent and competence required will increasingly turn into a rare commodity. Your society is in danger of falling apart or even breaking down because of complexity. While a shrinking minority of highly gifted people maintain technological “progress,” a majority sees itself increasingly sidelined.
As little as the nation-state, no matter how hard it strives for social justice, can reverse automation, so little can it do against the tendency of growing complexity.
SW: Factual constraints! I know, that’s how all those like to talk who find an explanation for even the most unbearable conditions. This entitles them to put their hands in their laps: there’s nothing more that can be done.
GJ: Objection. Let me defend my friend against such accusation. He only claims that the nation state is powerless against this development. Whether we like it or not, it is our triumphant technology that narrows our globe and imposes its laws. Nowhere is this compulsion more evident than with weapons. Every state that can afford them today possesses armaments with which to destroy its neighbors; the three superpowers can even wipe out the whole of mankind and make the globe uninhabitable for thousands of years. Against this impending danger the individual nation state is condemned to utter helplessness. If out of Christian meekness it were to decide to completely neutralize its own weapons arsenal, it is doomed to be oppressed by its previous opponents. Up to now no state has ever been rewarded for presenting its right cheek after being hit on the left one. So, all states continually strive for more arms – and in the process become more and more dangerous to each other. In our time, a more spark could suffice to ignite a global conflagration. This danger, which has been threatening us more and more since the beginning of the new century, cannot be averted by any individual state, but only by the leading superpowers. Either they succeed in deciding on a common world governance or they plunge each other and the rest of the world into ruin.
MEPH: Madame, you did not see or did not want to see that the nation-state cannot solve this most pressing problem of the new century. But the same is true for the climate crisis, resource depletion, and environmental littering. Every individual nation state, but also every confederation of states like the European Union, suffers disadvantages if being the only one that abandons fossil fuels and nuclear power, because renewables alone cannot meet its needs – as you yourself admit. So here again the nation-state remains helpless. There is only one solution to the greatest challenges of our century. Countries must get together and adopt rules for the whole world. Only when renouncing bombs, growth and the poisoning of nature becomes a common concern will it be recognized and followed by everyone. By attributing to the nation-state a competence to find solutions that it can no longer have in our time, you are describing conditions that belong to the past without giving us a realistic perspective for the future.
GJ: Please stop, you go too far. Ms. Wagenknecht rightly condemns the disintegration of society, which threatens not only the US but also Europe. She is one of very few righteous persons among the self-righteous because she exposes the hypocrisy of the lifestyle left by siding with the losers of globalization.
Sahra Wagenknecht to GJ:
Who is this belligerent gentleman who is pressing me so hard?
GJ: That is OldNick, my personal shadow and self-proclaimed friend.
MEPH: I am Part of that Power, not understood, Which always wills the Bad, and always works the Good.
GJ and his companion together:
Dr. Wagenknecht. Thank you for this interview!