Talking about Precarity …

Precarity: It is surely in important issue, even if nobody is really sure what it is. There are so many definitions: different in the orientation, different in the reasoning, different in the emphasis and weighing of some aspects and not least different in the exact “mapping” of a complex field, as there are people and groups talking about it.

This is not the most important, though the most secure conclusion from the two meetings over the last week: the one in Berlin, the other in Moscow.


And in some way a side event seemed to mark the corner stone for the debate: a white swan and a black swan, fighting against each other, each of them flaunting and maintaining its own beauty and each of them hardly acknowledging the other – the question is the old one: to be or not to be. The answer is the old one too: there is only space for one or the other. In Swan Lake finally indeed the one only, and it is “the good” in the sense of the white swan, importantly overcoming deception.


Talking about moral is then pointing into the direction that may explain to some extent the underlying problemtique hindering some more radical take on the issue: moral, at least in the post-enlightenment thinking, is “structurally individualist”. After humankind took responsibility from the shoulders of gods, accepting humans’ own responsibility, the problem of definition remained in the vein of a reductionist understanding: not the one god but the one person had to decide. Being seemingly general, social,in fact moral had been welded to the idea of individuals’ ratio, decisively expressed in Kant’s definition of the categorical imperative, and formulated much further in the exploration of law. In his Metaphysics we read in the Introduction into the Doctrine of Right:

Inbegriff der Bedingungen, unter denen die Willkür des einen mit der Willkür des anderen bei einem allgemeinen Gesetz der Freiheit vereinigt werden kann.[1]

And we also read:

Man nennt die bloße Übereinstimmung oder Nichtübereinstimmung einer Handlung mit dem Gesetze ohne Rücksicht auf die Triebfeder derselben die Legalität (Gesetzmäßigkeit), diejenige aber, in welcher die Idee der Pflicht aus dem Gesetze zugleich die Triebfeder der Handlung ist, die Moralität (Sittlichkeit) derselben.[2]

All these systems are in actual fact “just” and “legitimate” at least in their own terms, not least as they defined themselves the criteria on the basis of which they allow to be assessed. Here is in my view as well the source for both, the fundamental difficulty of social science to detect the mechanisms behind the processes of valuation and the lack of piety when it comes to “living” certain values. I explored this in a different context, writing

Usual approaches to social policy are characterised by taking some kind of problem as given – so the original idea had been to talk about precarity and poverty. Of course, we can well take at least poverty as a problem and social policy challenge – with precarity it looks a little bit different as it is seemingly a new issue and as such actually not yet defined as policy issue. In any case, there is the danger that we simply replicate structures without considering the underlying societal structures and patterns – this means not least replication without understanding what the actual problem is. In other words, in many cases “looking at the seemingly obvious” means looking for policies of system maintenance.[3]

And one neglected, though hugely important fact is the fundamental continuity and change of the role of the individual – here in particular of interest in the more recent history, namely the two last stages confronted with the question of rightfulness and legitimacy. We can follow Franz Borkenau who highlights the important role played by the individual during the Renaissance and also later in capitalism. It is not that the one era had been more individualist than the other. Important is that

[e]goism of the isolated individual is fundamental for Renaissance AND Reformation. The first sees it in the context of harmonious beauty; not because the life of the time and social stratum had been filled by such beauty – on the contrary –, but because it strives towards a life as landowning money-lenders, following the ideal a balanced aestheticism, standing against the life of ordinary people. Calvinists are nothing else than egoistic individuals, but THEY are, consciously against the ideal or the Renaissance, a life of irrational effort. The financial bourgeoisie profits from this degradation of feudalism; therefore it has to idealise this world.[4]


Coming back to the question of precarity, we can say that a more fundamental and radical understanding can be elaborated if we forget for a moment precarity as point of departure, at least precarity as matter of changing patterns of employment and subsequent patterns of life and living, social structuration and etc.

Let us first ask in what society we are living in. And in order to do that, let us now continue by going another detour, and look at the previous large-scale transformation of society: the overcoming feudalism, and the emergence of capitalism.[5] By and large we can say that feudalism had been characterised by

  • oppression and
  • personal dependence (patronage, clientelism …).

On the other hand, capitalism – or we may better speak of the bourgeois-citizens formation – had been characterised by the claims of

  • freedom of citizens (citoyen & bourgeois) and
  • regulation (the contractual systems determining the relations between rational individuals).

Both, feudalism and capitalism had been “systems”, i.e. complex relational entities. And they had been social entities,

understood as interaction between people and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships.[6]

More in terms of political economy as social science this is not least concerned with defining the relationship between production, consumption, distribution and exchange.[7]

Looking now at capitalism – fundamentally defined by wage labour as norm(ality) – we can see up to recently, i.e. when looking at “developed capitalism”, the following characteristics:

  • mass production
  • mass consumption
  • nation state
  • colonialism and imperialism as two complementing “external relationships”
  • system competition
  • formal democracy
  • family

All these, in there interplay, merge to the overall alienation – the famous expression, that

the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home[8]

gains a meaning that goes much beyond the sphere of the process of work, also characterising the political sphere, underlying consumerism, coining parts of private life etc.

However, looking at the current era, the 7 factors mentioned as characterising the capitalist system changed in one way or another – and in some more or less fundamental way – only short remarks have to do suffice.[9]

1) Mass Production

At least we have to see that mass production changed its face by continuing on a level that changed in two respects: one point in question is the degree of rationalisation and automatisation that characterises many areas (notwithstanding the fact that simple repetitive work is still undertaken as manual labour); another point is about the “variability of products” – though being produced as mass products, we find in many areas possibilities that within this framework the production can answer “individual wants” of customers.

2) Mass Consumption

Here we face the manifest contradiction between consumerism on the one hand and the increasing individualised consumer emerging from here. Though being manifest, the individualisation undermines the conscious tackling of the contradiction. – Looking at mass production and mass consumption together, one of the paradoxes is the fact that the chain between consumer/customer and product is lengthened to an extent that it  escapes completely control (evidenced for instance by the length of transport; the virtualisation of ordering, production, and even consumption …) but with this the direct control is also increasing (evidenced for instance by the access of customers being able to individually “assemble” their products by defining the specification when buying a computer).

3) Nation State

The nation state, without loosing it’s meaning, is at least torn between two forms of “regionalisation”. Taking the EU as example, we see on the one hand the aggregation of national powers and on the other hand movements of reclaiming power of sub-national regions (Scotland, Basque Country etc.). It is an ongoing question where this leaves the nation state. Equally important is the question which role the state actually has in the overall political processes and in the tensional field between the firm constitutional settings of the “state of law” (with its meaning for citizen’s rights but also with the right of the state as sovereign over citizens, territory and the social processes[10]) and private instances taking over sovereign functions. Not least, the systems of ”social support” and welfare provisions are hugely undermined in their traditional functioning.

4) Colonialism and Imperialism as two Complementing “External Relationships”

Though imperialism does in many respects regain force, it takes at the same time new forms, not least as the “one empire” does not exist anymore – and it does not yet exist.[11]

5) System Competition

The “blocks” – be it as contest of socialism and capitalism, be it as “developing” and “developed” countries – do not exist anymore as matters of a simple confrontation.

6) Formal Democracy

Though there is no clear line, moreover as little as concepts are clearly defined, we find from different angles claims into directions that are increasingly contesting the monopoly of formal democracy: catchwords as governance, direct democracy, area-related democracy (be it local, be it concerned with specific fields or issues: in the workplace, environmental democracy …) etc. . Important is also that the acceptance of such claims is more and more general, the alternative emerging as mainstream.

7) Family

Notwithstanding the ongoing meaning of “family” there are different moments pointing into the direction of dissolutions: this may be indicated by the increasing number of singles, lone parents, different forms of cohabitation; and this can also be indicated by “family” as stable relationship of a couple (with or without children) taking different forms (in the extreme the commuting marriage, i.e. partners living in different continents and seeing in regular intervals in different places). Again, this has huge implications for the systems of welfare and social support.

Taking all this together, means that we find a different relationing of production, consumption, distribution and exchange. The emphasis of financialisation as major characteristic of current capitalism falls short of capturing the change in a holistic way: we have to consider both, the mode of production and the increasing meaning of consumption and exchange, developing some dominance over production and distribution; and in addition we have to develop an understanding of the interplay between them.

Also alienation takes a new form: the known pattern of the worker feeling

at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home,[12]

is now replaced by the market citizen who feels at home when he left the dwelling and being settled in the dwelling, does not feel at home.


One of the decisive overall results of the process has to be seen in the fact of a ne accumulation regime that is surely still based in production; however, it is at the very same time increasingly “annexed” as profitability is further detached from the production of use value. As much as it had been always the case that capitalism prioritised exchange value, use value only being a necessary though not sufficient condition as much we face now a shift characterised by use value itself now being changed: many commodities are themselves increasingly “intermediaries”.

Another decisive moment can be seen in the fact of an increasing meaning of consumption as mechanism of socialisation (thought the opposite is equally true). For allowing an understanding we may first refer to the fact that classically the realisation of “value” is only happening ex ante, on the market: a product (commodity) has to be sold and only then the invested labour is acknowledged. It requires the sale of the result of labour that acknowledges the value, i.e. the socially defined useful labour.[13] But here exchange of commodities, the determination of “value” (i.e. the value of the invested work) and use value (as matter of consumption) are immediately interwoven. Looking at the current era we find a shift where this chain cannot be taken for granted as hegemonic pattern. The (surely questionable) supply-demand relationship as mechanism of “determining value” is now in some way turned around: demand is defining and determining in some way demand;[14] and production is also increasingly defining and determining production.[15]

This will not be further explored. Still one important issue has to be raised – at least as outline for further questioning the society in which we are (going to) live. As a general outline of historical development we may refer to the following stages

  • equality and subordination under nature
  • power and exclusion in slave societies
  • privilege
  • property
  • sovereignty[16]

By and large this is at this stage an open field, allowing development into different directions. But as much as economic processes are defined by political decisions and struggles between different social interests, the opportunity for a fundamental change, going beyond the borders of an accumulation regime founded in commodity production in the strict sense.


Not yet a week passed by, standing at the Paul’s Cathedral in Frankfurt/M., discussing labour market issues, green growth and regional labour market monitoring the question is of course obvious: Are we facing a new “Westphalian Peace”, different forms of nation states emerging as it happened in Muenster and Osnabrueck in 1648; is the current situation simply about a new structure of political governance of a small elite as the citoyens that gathered in 1849 as first publicly and freely-elected German legislative institution, backing the final breakthrough of capitalism; or is there an opportunity to make people’s sovereignty in a fundamental sense possible, allowing everybody as social being to control the conditions of production and reproduction of everyday’s life?

May be the deliberations during the EUROMEMO-workshop, starting on Thursday in Rome, could shed some more light on relevant issues, overcoming the call for a radical change of economic processes in favour of a radical change of the economy.


[1] Epitome of the conditions, under which one’s arbitrariness can be united in a general law of freedom with the arbitrariness of somebody else.

[2] The pure compliance or non-compliance between an act and the law, without considering its incitement, is called legality (Legalitaet [Gesetzmaessigkeit]); but that, where the idea of the obligation of the law is also the incitement of the act, is called its morality (Sittlichkeit).

[3] Herrmann, Peter, 2014: Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution; Bremen/Oxford: EHV

[4] Borkenau, Franz, 1932: Der Uebergang von Feudalen zum buegerlichen Weltbild. Studien zur Geschichte der Philosophie der Manufakturperiode; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971: 160

[5] This implies that we are currently witnessing a fundamental shift, a revolutionary development – if we can and have to speak of overcoming capitalism is difficult to say – perhaps the difficulty is here that the terms capitalism and socialism are somewhat misleading (I am well aware of the fact that this is a statement that can easily be misinterpreted).

[6] van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan, 2012: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan [eds.]: Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators: Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 250-274, here: 260

[7] see the elaboration in Marx, Karl, 1857: Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse) There we read (passim)

(1) Immediate identity: Production is consumption, consumption is production. Consumptive production. Productive consumption. …

(2) [In the sense] that one appears as a means for the other, is mediated by the other: this is expressed as their mutual dependence; a movement which relates them to one another, makes them appear indispensable to one another, but still leaves them external to each other. …

(3) … also, each of them, apart from being immediately the other, and apart from mediating the other, in addition to this creates the other in completing itself, and creates itself as the other. Consumption accomplishes the act of production only in completing the product as product by dissolving it, by consuming its independently material form, by raising the inclination developed in the first act of production, through the need for repetition, to its finished form; it is thus not only the concluding act in which the product becomes product, but also that in which the producer becomes producer. On the other side, production produces consumption by creating the specific manner of consumption; and, further, by creating the stimulus of consumption, the ability to consume, as a need.


[8]            Marx, Karl, 1844: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts

[9] This can be contested. However, any contestation should consider two points: (i) looking at the persistence and renaissance of some principles and processes (some trends to very conservative family interpretations among young people, the emphasis of claiming formal democracy, indeed the mass consumption in form of consumerism etc.) is probably not least a confirmation of the thesis of their dissolution, motivating people to look for alleged securities of “known” patterns; (ii) the suggested changes are not least understood as trends of which the coming into practice cannot be anything else than a matter of contradictory processes.

[10] This is about politics and policies of social order and also the control of the national economy as “ideal total capitalist”.

[11]            Further discussion is needed of the proposal by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000): Empire; Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press

[12]            Marx, Karl, 1844: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts

[13]            See Marx’ presentation n the first chapter of the first volume of Capital.

[14] for instance the demand of “cheap services” increases the demand of additional services – low fare flights increasing the transport from and to airports, in general and to airports that are distant from well connected centres

[15] for instance the “interplay” between chip production and software production in the IT-industry

[16] In part with reference to a letter written by Polanyi to Robert Schlesinger, quoted in Polanyi-Levitt, 2006: Tracing Karl Polanyi’s Institutional Political Economy to its Central European Source; in: Polanyi-Levitt, Kari/McRobbie, Kenneth [eds.]: Karl Polanyi in Vienna: The Contemporary Significance of The Great Transformation; Montreal et altera: Black Rose Books: 378-391: here: 381; see also already: Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Justice as a Question of Politics – Justice as a Question of Economics; in: Laurinkari, Juhani/Tarvainen, Merja (eds.): N.N.


Bonnes Gens – Good People

Pour- quoi faut-il qu’ayant trouvé tant de bonnes gens dans ma jeunesse, j’en trouve si peu dans un âge avancé ? Leur race est-elle épuisée ? Non ; mais l’ordre où j’ai besoin de les chercher aujourd’hui n’est plus le même où je les trouvais alors. Parmi le peuple, où les grandes passions ne parlent que par intervalles, les sentiments de la nature se font plus souvent entendre. Dans les états plus élevés ils sont étouffés absolument, et sous le masque du sentiment il n’y a jamais que l’intérêt ou la vanité qui parle.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Les Confessions, 1782

Living Out Of Time, In Globality

My life was a world life – I lived the life of the world. But the world stopped living for several decades, and then in a few years it advanced a century! So I am only now coming into my own, having somewhere lost 30 years on the way – waiting for Godot – until the world caught up again, caught up to me. In retrospect, it is all quite strange, the martyrdom of isolation was only apparent – ultimately, I was only waiting for myself. Now the scales are weighed against us – against you, against me – because in ten years, I would stand vindicated in my own lifetime. My work is for Asia and Africa, for the new peoples. The West should bring them spiritual and intellectual assistance; instead the west is destroying the tradition of the 19th century and is even demolishing its Victorian ideals… My ideas at last are drawing opposition and that is a good sign, I would dearly love to live to fight for them, but man is a mortal being.

Karl Polanyi: Letter written to a lifetime friend, Bé de Waard,1958, cited in Kari Levitt and Marguerite Mendell, ‘Karl Polanyi his Life and Times’ Studies in Political Economy, spring 1987 issue no.22 pp. 7-39

quoted from


Varieties of capitalism – impressions of an eternal tourist

Rome – Berlin
Long queues – visitors waiting for access to a building
One building? Of course not – how could it be so when talking about two different cities.
Still, one common feature:
They are waiting to access the cupola: of the basilica in Rome, of the Reichstag in Berlin
Faith and democracy??

Faith versus democracy??

One point is striking: not so much that there are only few religious people wearing a habit in Berlin. But surely that there so many police(wo)men, security guards … wearing ordinary working uniforms instead of the fancy gala uniforms they wear back home.
Very much the same though: the huge amount of people sleeping rough next to the train station … and for them it is surely not a major difference that in the one country it is Caritas, in the other the Bahnhofmission that looks after them, the one with sleeping bags the other with a soup kitchen …

…. Variety of capitalism …


Death of civilization….

I received a mail …

Il giorno 13/set/2014, alle ore 14:30, …

It is a death ,..

Actually I received the mail after arriving in Berlin for a planning meeting of a network on precarity …

I follow the article – thinking that it is a somewhat unusual death notice, though I know the person who sent it. The article is speaking about the library closures going on in the UK, it could and should speak bout the library closures in the global north-west …

… and the moral …?

Never allow dead people making politics or policies …:-(

I rely by adding another point – referring to something I read earlier in another mail:

Libraries ,,doors to knowledge and haven of peace ,,,what is there (in the libraries) not to like. For me ? To make a choice ,,,hate to do as I am greedy about certain things ( eg : books) Having to return them ,,

I personally would have a huge library, part of it destroyed by my parents: you could name it a “private book burning” though in that case they intentionally drowned them. Part of it actually drowned in my Irish estate – d e to frost damaging some pipes; others still existing somewhere I could not store them anymore. Just a side remark on the latter: I offered a huge store to the university library in Cork – for free: interesting unpublished stuff s well, from EU (or EC) times: documents, project documentation, project analysis …. They declined: No space, but not least “it is not in English” (just in alien languages as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Swedish).

Today the same university library in Cork, as many others, stores the books somewhere, one has to order them and they will be available next day, perhaps even the afternoon of the same day.

Sure, there is a problem of space – but there is a problem of building cages, prisons … I have been very privileged at times: One of the universities where I studied provided all year round access (I think it had been closed just one day, they called Christmas). Overnight and holiday limitations applied: only one entrance open. It had been in a way just one huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge room, probably one entire floor of the University in Bielefeld. All departments; sure “we” have had “our” area: economics, law, sociology; but in some way we shared the “room” with physics, quantum mechanics, nuclear biology, impressionism, renaissance architecture, philosophy of Mencius – things we sometimes (many times) did not know how to spell, we did not know that they existed. But as much as there had been in the 1840s a spectre hunting Europe, there had been the spectre of universal knowledge hunting many of us in such a library. I encountered this spectre also when I worked (did I ever work? Didn’t I only study throughout my life?), so many books I didn’t understand, but being there and begging for respect, though I should have been the begging one: asking humbly to be part of this affluence of knowledge …

… there we come to the tricky point, the im-materialisation of the spectre, emerging as spirit.

Marx said once (something as) The idea turns into a material force if it gains the support of the masses (bad memory, bad translation – I remember only the German original:

Die Idee wird zur materiellen Gewalt wenn sie die Massen ergreift

Another, very special experience when I studied (or worked …, or played, or worked on the project of changing the world?) in Amsterdam. I remember once finding myself in part of the law library, asking one of the librarians a silly question. Actually, silly had been that I asked as he wanted to see my library card which I handed over. He looked at it and said

Hm…, actually you are not allowed to be in this area …. – but …, well for these documents you have to go to the third shelve …, actually I will come with you and give you the box with the commented drafts of the legislation ….

On another occasion I visited the library for anthropology, looking for a special book. I walked along the Prinzengracht (if I remember correctly, may be it had been the Herrengracht) and looked for house number (lets say) 378. Walked along, saw house number 374, 376, 380, 382 — strange, walked back, and the house number 378 had been a house without number, I entered: I saw “glimpses of a library”: a sign with opening hours, the name … . “Glimpses” because it had been just one of the beautiful “private houses” now being used as library. And the library had been only really coming to the fore after I left the corridor – indoors one could walk into house 376 – just the ordinary rooms but full of books. Sure, systematic, but at the same time due to the architecture not: one section ended …, and had been continued in another room, perhaps not the next because that had been used for another subject area.

In such places you CAN CHOOSE; and nothing has to be returned because it cannot be taken out – all remains OURS: written by us, inherited by us, read by us, carried on by us.

I won’t tell you about my stays in the library for theology, for philosophy (sitting under a beautiful “Rembrandt-like “ paining, a “reading cushion” and on it the second addition of Spinoza, in Latin, in front of me (and admittedly the Latin language added to the pleasure, though caused as ell some pain; and I will not expand on being more or less the only reader for several weeks in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: arts …. history, techniques, epochs, great artists, exhibitions … (well, I could have gone to look at van Rijns “Night watch” as break – but going there before, being on my own just with security, had been more fun…) – sitting there in the reading room: computer, fountain pen, book from the library, note book … I remember a gentleman with two kids walking along (it is one of these “show libraries”, but usually people watched from the balcony). The guy, standing with the kids next to me, pointing at me, I could not hear, don’t know if he really said

… You see, this is what they did and how lived in those old times ….

I still buy books, and I get your point

what is there (in libraries) not to like – For me ? To make a choice .. hate to do as I am greedy about certain things ( eg : books). Having to return them …

But try to get my point: I do not know if I really want to buy more books, want to own them, instead of sitting in a good library, reading, browsing, possibly meeting people, talking with them about what they read, what I read, what we read.

It is a privilege – and it is THIS privilege that makes me coming back to Frances: his camminare insieme.

In a completely different context a Hungarian friend of mine wrote

But it is a big question whether spirituality (and genuine morality) ought to have a basis in faith (or religion).

And she did not mean spirituality in the strict sense, but something of empathy, solidarity, justice …

Her answer simply

I don’t think so

And my answer is the same. I replied to her

I think that being only based in this, it will fail – there must be the material force …

And one of the material forces is the provision of common spaces, common ways on which we can walk together. The church, and other orders, provide that; however, “the public” – after undermining its own basis – cannot do so anymore, lost its own ground. – Slowly but surely it pushed people out of the public realm, calling it enlightenment, but actually meaning reducing them on instruments of instrumental reason, torsos calculating utilities …

As I wrote earlier:

Sure, there is a problem of space – but there is a problem of building cages, prisons …

Books, being imprisoned in storerooms warehouses, libraries … closed because of lack of money … – the revenge lurking around the corner: prisons that have to accommodate those people who could not access education, who had been excluded from society, who lived in a society that actually did not exist anymore, that had been reduced by liberals, by the right. Reduced by the liberals? Well, that is exactly it when what Thatcher did when programmatically stating:

There is now such thing as society.

I guess analytically she had been right; but she did not mean it that way, she meant it as program ….


Berlin, I walk to the meeting point …, passing memories, memorials.

Walking along the Spree where the life of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht found its end, a memorial plaque saying

The defiance of life and the brutality against human beings show people’s ability to inhumanness. It can and should not be a means to conflict resolution of any kind.[1]

Passing presence and future ….

Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist stating:

Their sickness is a result of structural violence: neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.

Surely all this also being part of those things that have to be discussed when we talk about war, standing up against it


[1]            Original

Die Missachtung des Lebens und die Brutalität gegen den Menschen lassen die Fähigkeit der Menschen zur Unmenschlichkeit erkennen. Sie kann und darf kein Mittel irgendeiner Konfliktlösung sein und bleiben.

Europe – Yesterday we stood at the abyss

but now we are moving forward.

Europe is coming to an end …

… at least with the ideas of the new President of the Commisszion.

Now, the summer break is surely ended by now and it is time to look at the awaking world. By now the president of the European Commission is in office. But when looking back, seeing his statement to the European Parliament, then still being candidate for President of the Commission and listening to it is both discouraging. A somewhat boring statement, showing only in few passages some colour, meaning engagement – but this had been not least on occasions where a clear analytical perspective would have been most needed.

Though late, a brief statement on the statement may still be appropriate:

It is amazing in which way, to which extent such candidate, talking to the parliament, i.e. to (the representatives of) the people, can approach burning questions, not least the loss of legitimacy, can argue highly reflexive. Reflexive here is just a nice way, avoiding the use of the term inward looking. Even if he rightly addresses the question of legitimacy (and the lack of it), and in particular the role of the parliament, but also the character of the Commission etc., he overlooked that all this: the institutions and the relationship between them is only about “instruments” to pursue the will of the people or the general will. At least it should be so.

The will of the people or the general will are then in some way addressed later. Leaving the show-off effect out of consideration (Oui, M. Junker, qui est une grande performance: auch ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch, ma la questione è uno dei contenuti; en dit is niet een kwestie van lippendienst, sinó d’abordar realment les qüestions pertinents – sure, limited correctedness and I ask the native speaeker for apologies), it is interesting to see the change to the German language at exactly that point, and even saying it is about changing to the language of the champion. Primus inter pares? Or what is a champion in a Europe of equals.

It is then somewhat worrying – though not surprising – that all this is exactly about those issues as the “Olympic team” (this alludes to the term that had been used a more or less ling time ago when in Germany employability had been closely inked to exactly this point: the orientation on employees as “teams, ready to take part in Olympic games” (“olympiareife Mannschaften”).

Yes, there are without any doubt some valuable points mentioned – the importance of welfare policies that are guaranteeing some minimum standards …

But the overall gist remains sad and saddening. Einstein once stated

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

In clearer language: it is foolish to address the problems we have by making what caused them to instruments to overcome them. However, looking from a point of true political economy at Juncker’s proposals they are just such instruments of foolishness: growth, growth, growth — the outline given for justifying that it will be green viz. sustainable growth, is highly questionable. It had been the orientation on growth as development that sees other than GDP-development only as adjunct, as quasi-automatic, subsequent moves. Growth, even if green, will not stop its destructive force if it is seen as structurally disjoined from sound societal policies.

By the way, Mr Juncker, this had been a major problem standing for a long time always at all those laudable attempts: from Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments (written before he thought about the Wealth of the Nations) to the surely honest (though in many respect naïve) debates in the circle around Walter Eucken, Franz Böhm, Alexander Rüstow und Wilhelm Röpke etc. (yes, Erhard and Mueller-Armack had been somewhat populist followers of much greater thinkers).

I am not sure if I succeeded, but at least I tried on different occasions to point out that we need an integrated approach, recently for instance in the opening speech, addressing the conference Justice and Solidarity: The European Utopia in a Globalising Era (organised by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts & University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio – 2./3. September)) and also in a contribution on the “Vatican Spring”, which will soon be published in a book titled “El Papa – ¿Cuántas divisiones tiene?”Sondeo global del catolicismo mundial según el “World Values Survey” y el “European Social Survey” [(Ed. Arno Tausch); The Centro Argentino de Estudios Internacionales, CAEI, Buenos Aires, Study on Global Roman Catholicism].

There is also something that had been discussed recently in Lindau – on the occasion of a meeting of laureates of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (the so-called Nobel Prize for Economics) – there attac (Association pour la taxation des transactions financières et pour l’action citoyenne) organised a symposium, urging for a move to a different approach. But even some of the laureates had not been too happy with how things work in the growth economy, being especially critical about the austerity policy. James Mirrleess contended that the German chancellor has the wrong advisors. So, yes, may the future president of the Commission then join them.

Well, then to a metaphor that is really pointing on the dramatic dimension of the current situation: the “29th member state”. Yes, there is a major problem: what we discussed (we, i.e. in the political debates in the institutionalised Europe) in the 1970s ff. as poverty and social inclusion reached a level and even more so a quality that deserves some more reflection. And the metaphor of a 29th member state is usefully highlighting the dramatic character. But there remains a … but …

I am not switching to Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish language, the language of “the losers”. And even if it is indeed laudable that Greece had been rescued, as pointed out in the statement, it had not been really about repairing a plane while in the air. It had been more about crashing the plane, then collecting the valuable parts from the ground while leaving the corpses there, may be giving them a friendly blessing.

The fundamental question is if we should simply look for ways to “enlarge” the Union by including this “29th member state”, or if we have to look more closely into building a new Union – one which does not allow for such exclusion at first instance.

These will also be issues that will be discussed on the 17th ff. of September in Moscow ( (see also the debate in the recent publication: Herrmann, Peter/Bobkov, Viacheslav/Csoba, Judit: Labour Market and Precarity of Employment: Theoretical Reflections and Empirical Data from Hungary and Russia; Vienna: WVFS; 2014.

It may be worthwhile to look at the end of these brief reflections at a short contribution of the Social Platform, European NGOs gathered to lobby the European institutions, being quite optimist, contending the tension:

I can already hear some of you saying “that does not answer the immediate challenges” or “this is not what the President Elect of the Commission put on the table in July”. And I would say “actually its does”

In the following we read then

The social shield we are calling for includes The President Elect’s proposal to “put in place a minimum wage, and a guaranteed minimum income.” But it brings much more into debate with the financing of social services and the availability of unemployment benefits. The access to quality services we promote could be challenged by the negotiations on the transatlantic trade agreement (TTIP) that the new commission will finalise. The directive blocked by the EU countries to remove discrimination in access to service is another instrument to reach our broader objective. There are bigger challenges in the EU that need broader instruments.

But at the end, al these points are still very much about rebuilding the existing state, actually enforcing it by providing a shield, however forgetting that it is about the need of a real vision, and such real vision has to be one that is seriously taking up the challenge of a fundamental change. In other words:

Looking at the bigger picture will help us with a new EU route

is one way of seeing it.

The other is about the old questions we know from Alice and the Cat.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

In other words: there is the danger of looking for better ways of dealing with the existing faulty systems instead of looking for better systems. May be the cat was right:

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’