This is a translation of the beginning of an email I received recently from Ralph Boes:
“Berlin, 26th October, 2012
It has happened at last.
After challenging the Hartz IV system via my Brandbrief, and after those I challenged tried for a long time to ignore me, I am now to be harshly sanctioned.
For starters, a mere 90% reduction of the absolute minimum needed to live! That works out to a princely 37.40€ (instead of 374.00€) per month to live from.
The punishment can, however, be made harsher still. A 100% cut, plus loss of health insurance and home, is in their power.”
Of course, this is what Ralph Boes wanted to bring about, yet I fear for him. He begins his political, public and state-imposed starvation on 1st November, when the sanctioning takes effect (he asserts it is not a hunger strike, but a public demonstration of the violence of Hartz IV). He hopes to attract media attention. I wonder if he will get it, and what quality it might have should the media pay attention.
Should the authorities escalate and stop paying his rent too (as is their ‘right’), should they stop paying his health insurance, he would be as the other homeless of Germany, unable to get a job for lack of an address, with no right to any medical care whatsoever, and with the payments still owed monthly for health insurance now amassing an enormous debt to be repaid should they ever find work again. A 100% sanctioning is thus, more or less, a death sentence, an eviction from society (if you have no one around to look after you).
Boes is a brave man. His fight to expose and right the injustices of this inhuman and unconstitutional system is noble. I hope he and his lawyers can take this battle all the way, and win.
Boes is at pains to point out that his punishment does not represent the will of employment agency employees, and calls for his supporters not to be angry with them. This is the machination of a system unable to adjust intelligently to new realities, primary among which is the cold fact that there is not enough work to employ sufficient numbers of people at a decent wage. If we are to live sustainably, efficiently and intelligently, we must first accept that our obsession with wages for labour, any old labour regardless of its consequences, is doing more harm than good. Again, it is not that there is no work to be done, but that there is less and less paid word to be done. Were the tax, benefits and money systems to be made sensible, transparent and simple, there would be even less paid work. However, what today constitutes paid work in this money system within the context of complex and obtuse tax law, and what may well become paid work in an updated system, is another matter.
My own interest remains transition to a resource-based economy, whatever that turns out to be. My definition of that transition is the concerted and purposeful demotion of money and promotion of wealth. Such a transition will require and generate new definitions of money and thus societal value, definitions we can only crudely sketch out at this distance. Today, in the UK, around 20% of employed people earn less than a living wage. Spain has reached 25% unemployment in its official statistics, with youth unemployment at around 50%. Greece is in free fall. Italy is teetering on the brink, ditto Portugal. Germany is not anywhere near as robust as its surface reputation would have you believe, and France is hardly problem free. Elsewhere in the world, the story is similar, with very few exceptions. Perpetual economic growth, which is basically the conversion of ecosystems and society into goods and services, is impossible on a finite planet. Debt-based, usury-based money systems require perpetual economic growth to function; if they are not expanding, they are collapsing, and that is a deadly design flaw. Add to this rapidly increasingly technological innovations (today only 163 million of the planet’s 7 billion humans are employed in factories worldwide, and this number is shrinking fast), the need for radical change is immediately apparent. (Did I mention peak everything?)
Many know it. The Pirate Party in Germany (Die Piraten) have accepted the need for a guaranteed income. Mainstream parties are in consultation with them or have their own proposals. The Vatican is seeking to become the first country to initiate a guaranteed income. Radical change is in the air, and yet resistance to new ideas is still strong. As I have argued in these pages before, we are the system. We are blocking ourselves, frightened of the unknown. We demand a perfect alternative, and failing perfection assert there is no alternative. But I have wittered on and on about this, and frankly, I am beginning to bore myself. Either we make it, or we don’t.
About five years ago, I posted on The Guardian’s website that we need a new cultural understanding of wealth. This was before I had heard anything of The Venus Project or a resource-based economy. My position has not changed. We still confuse money for wealth, at ‘best’ seeing money as an accurate—thanks to the divine magic of the free market price system—representation of societal consensus on where value lies, and how society should motivate itself and make decisions on what should get done. To survive the next few decades (time is really running out), we must redefine wealth via new money systems, new money distribution mechanisms, and a fundamentally different relationship with this beautiful planet. As New York drowns, as Spain and Greece burn with others waiting to join them in the fire, as the US wastes resources on yet another razzmatazz election, as billions struggle with hunger and deprivation and further billions live lives of horrible indignity and meek desperation, and as a shrinking few cannot decide whether to party like its 1999 or Do Something, we are in the middle of the very difficult challenge of profoundly changing how we live, what we want, and what we understand. Somehow we must develop new understandings and want something very different, something which allows diversity to thrive and be celebrated, while engendering cooperation and cohesion on an unprecedented scale.
It isn’t going to be easy. No one has all the answers. Indeed, there is no Solution, no Silver Bullet, only the recognition that a new direction must be trod, almost blindly. But it is not the destination that matters—there is none—, rather the manner and steel of our departure.