Ralph Boes is a philosopher, author, was briefly a member of the Pirate Party (Die Piraten), and currently lives in Berlin. He has recently dedicated his life to bringing The System down. This he is doing by touring Germany and lecturing wherever people want to hear what he has to say. He charges nothing for this, but does it full time. The money he needs to financially sustain his chosen path he draws from the state under the Hartz IV programme. This programme does not permit you to work as you choose, but rather forces any type of work, often for €1 an hour, on those in need of its ‘largesse’. If you don’t work, you don’t eat, and the state gets to define, tightly, what is work, and what is not.
Some background on Hartz IV. Peter Hartz is an ex-chief human resources officer for Volkswagen, and a member of the political party the SPD. The SPD introduced the Hartz unemployment reforms in the mid 2000s under Chancellor Schroeder. Hartz IV is the lowest level thereof, Hartz I the highest. And though the idea of helping people back into work is noble enough, Hartz IV is so draconian it actually contravenes the German constitution, the first line of which reads, “Human dignity is inviolable; it is the obligation of all state authority to respect and protect it.” Hartz IV cannot respect human dignity, since it proceeds from the highly dubious premise that any work at all, no matter how poorly paid, meaningless or socially harmful, is better than ‘lazing around doing nothing.’ Working as a sweeper at a sweet factory is work, raising your children is not. Hence, a person who signs on the dotted line of the “Eingliederungsvereinbarung” (“incorporation agreement”—actually, it’s not an agreement at all; refusal to sign incurs sanctioning, whereupon the contract is forced into effect anyway, just as a prisoner is forced to comply with prison rules he has not freely consented to) must take whatever work is given, or be sanctioned (which begins with a 30% reduction of income). Signing this ‘agreement’ also means you forgo your constitutional right to dignity (and other rights) set out in the constitution. Being sanctioned three times typically means becoming homeless and penniless, yet still you must adhere to the ‘agreement’ you may not even have signed. The numbers of homeless are rising in Germany, while, just as in the Great Depression, the stores are full.
Sarkozy and other European countries are impressed with Hartz IV, and want to implement it at home. It appears to keep employment up, gives the oiks something to do at very low wages, and thus keeps one competitive.What’s not to like?
Ralph Boes ‘works’ as a self-employed, full time volunteer, telling any who will listen, all over Germany, that Hartz IV contravenes the German constitution, and that a guaranteed income of €1,000 for adults and €500 for children should be introduced immediately. Hartz IV forbids work as a self-employed, full time volunteer, and also forbids leaving the city in which you are domiciled. As such, Mr Boes is breaking every Hartz IV law, and should be sanctioned. Indeed, it is this he is inviting, but his eloquence—combined with the spirit of the constitution, perhaps—is producing interesting effects. He is (for now) silencing the state, and beginning to generate a following.
Boes’ focus on the German constitution’s foundational principle—that the state’s force must be deployed above all to protect and respect the dignity of each and every individual—is key, and, in my opinion, historically vital at this juncture. The state, thus far, has been an elitist system which operates for its own ends, which have been those of the elite, logically enough. The German constitution can therefore be seen as an anti-state and pro-democracy framework, since it places the individual right at the heart of state concern (not ‘The People’, but the dignity of each individual; no racism possible). That is the core value of democracy, and, as the state need not be democratic, indeed has yet to be democratic (for want of a democratic money system), the German constitution is in fact a threat to the state form as we know it. That Germany is becoming, as Boes says, the China of Europe, tells us very clearly what the money elites think of Germany’s constitution.
(As a side note, on 28 February of this year, the German constitutional court ruled the European Stability Mechanism “in large part” unconstitutional (source), and yet only a fool would bet against the mighty forces of state and money. The ESM grants a single entity financial power which would shame Hitler.)
Boes officially began his attack on June 7, 2011, by delivering an open letter (“Brandbrief”; literally “burning letter”) to: Chancellor Angela Merkel, then President Christian Wulff, Secretary of Labour Ursula von der Leyen, the Director of the Employment Agency F. J. Weise, and the manager of his local job centre, Thomas Schneider (you can read it in English here). The following paragraphs give a good flavour of Boes’ style and thinking:
At first glance, Hartz IV is nothing more than a well-intentioned attempt by the state to help those who have fallen out of employment to both survive and find their way back to work. The attempt is respectable and fully corresponds with the constitution. One could just leave them on the streets.My questions on this last point are these: Why should we demand human labour remain the only way a population may acquire money, and, by logical extension, push on with perpetually growing economic consumption, when neither are necessary, and both are harmful? What good is it to adhere to obviously outdated concepts of work and reward when doing so threatens our existence? Whom does this blind insistence serve?
No less respectable—and at first glance understandable—is the goal of providing just enough support to enable self-help, in accordance with therapeutic principles. And it inspires high regard in an observer to see how much money has been dedicated, not only to ensuring a basic standard of living, but also to financially assist ‘reactivation’ and ‘re-qualification’ for those in need of such help.
But no matter how titanic the efforts, the results therefrom can only be a disappointment. The attempt to encourage self-help is wrong at its base. Our problem is not the unemployed, but rather the changed circumstances of production.
In the 1970s, perhaps even in the early 80s, the sources of the problem of unemployment may well have been different. They were to be found in the individual, since in the old Federal Republic, employees were sought desperately in all work areas.
Had we, at that time, given the unemployed the chance to change or advance their careers, as we offer them today, they would have been helped by such support to get involved in life again, instead of merely stagnating in that stable welfare system. Likely such measures would have delivered much. Then, the step out of unemployment would have been a step into a vibrant, meaningful—and as a rule well paid—working life.
How different it is today. The employment market is more than saturated. Today’s unemployed are not generally problem cases, on the edge of life because they themselves are somehow damaged and in need of therapy. The great majority of them are unemployed due to the enormous productivity of machines. The shelves are full of a great variety of goods, in amounts beyond anything humanity has hitherto witnessed, without need of human labour: that is the problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are stuck in a rut. On the one hand, we have sociopathic beneficiaries of this rut seeking to drive it ever on, come hell or high water. On the other, we have those incapable of imagining human dignity might be found in what they think of as laziness, or in motherhood, or in travel, or conversation, friendship, poetry, music, etc. On this second group history has much to say; multiple human cultures have wrestled with the problem of work and free riders enjoying the fruits of others’ labour. This time it’s different. Instead of slaves, we have machines. We can neither pay machines, nor could they go shopping if we did pay them. We should be demanding more ‘leisure’, not because we are ‘lazy bums’ (we aren’t), but because the circumstances demand it. Boes again:
We are reacting to the wrong time, treating yesterday’s sickness (which we didn’t even treat yesterday), while not seeing today’s. Like a doctor certain a patient has a lung disease whereas in truth there is insufficient air, we treat the unemployed with instruments long outdated, and through their misuse, turn them into instruments of torture.The crux of the open letter is found in the following paragraphs, which read to me like a declaration of war:
From today, I openly resist every imposition on me by the state to accept any work I consider meaningless, and refuse to obey any absurd rule presented to me by any governmental agency. I reject too the fixation with “gainful employment”, long since proven illusory by reality.
I demand an unconditional right to a free, self-determined life, which I shall dedicate to any activity I myself decide is meaningful, not one exogenously prescribed for me — even if I am forced by economic and political realities to claim Hartz IV support.
I call all work, which arises out of an inner and sincere human wish, holy,
This is his declaration of intent, which I find part Paine, part Schiller. Indeed, after I listened to him interviewed, I said to my wife, “In this man, Germany has her second Schiller”; highly educated, fearless, unprejudiced and blessed with the common touch. Schiller, of course, had no Internet. Here’s hoping Ralph Boes can reach more people more effectively and immediately than Schiller managed, as he was hounded from safe house to safe house during his last ailing years.
- regardless of whether it is carried out externally or internally,
- and regardless of whether it enables “earning”.
Anyway, it is obvious, both from the letter and, e.g., his giving unannounced lectures on guaranteed income to staff at various Berlin job centres, that Herr Boes is unafraid of the sanctions he seeks. Not only that, he is also a patiently passionate man determined to take this fight as far as it can humanly be taken. He has buckets of courage backed up with deep training in philosophy and equally deep familiarity with the details of the relevant aspects of German constitutional law.
The state reacted with caution to the letter. Boes had to wait an additional six weeks for his (at that time) imminent interview at the job centre. He arrived to be directed to a pretty and highly competent Hartz IV advisor, whom he had never seen before. She informed him that whatever he writes in the outside world has no relevance in the job centre. A normal interview was to be conducted.
They went through the motions. Boes refused, once again, to sign the “Eingliederungsvereinbarung”. He insisted he was a self-employed, full time volunteer in the services of guaranteed income, booked to give lectures right across Germany to audiences who could not afford to pay him. This status (self-employed, full time volunteer) cannot even be entered into the Hartz IV database, since it breaks all their laws. As the Germans love to say, “So geht’s nicht!” Impossible to translate without losing its stubborn tone, its palpably threadbare imagination, but it means, roughly, “That can’t work!” Boes was then offered the obligatory five jobs, which he summarily rejected. By rights he should have been sanctioned.
Herr Boes and Frau X thus reached the expected impasse. Boes resolved it by offering to draw up his own, more meaningful contract. She accepted, and off he went, unsanctioned.
It took him a while, and he only managed to draw it up with the help of lawyers and others who all drafted and edited the document over the Internet over a period of weeks late last year, but complete the contract he did. It, and the so-far conclusion of this story, will be the subject matter of my next post. Stay tuned!