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Comment from Tagesspiegel: In the basic income debate, the state must not act more stupid than it is

When it comes to basic income, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil is acting with a social democratic narrow-mindedness. Given the billions in additional spending, better answers are needed.

Can there be good populism amid much bad populism? Yes, there can be. And in the heated debate about the basic income, it’s worth sorting out one from the other.

The basic income started as a big promise for more fairness towards people who have fallen into difficult circumstances. What it has turned into is a widespread impression: something has gone awry. Where does the state draw the line between generosity and allowing itself to be taken for fools? And how much generosity can the country afford in difficult times?

Too often, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and the center-left coalition brush aside questions like these by pointing out that those who work always have more than those who live off the basic income. This is factually correct. But it also takes a social democratic narrow-mindedness to not want to admit that the discomfort of more and more people cannot be simply explained away.

There is a blind spot in the debate

In every supermarket, at every gas station, there is a demand for personnel. At the same time, millions of people who could fundamentally work live off the basic income. That is the core of the discomfort. And it is the significant factual difference from the debates of the early Hartz-IV years, which were conducted in times of mass unemployment.

Taking the discomfort seriously, not simply dismissing it as heartlessness, is good populism. And that’s why there needs to be more toughness towards those who are genuinely unwilling to work, a re-adjustment of the sanctioning possibilities. Those who do not turn a blind eye to people exploiting the welfare state strengthen the willingness of the solidarity community to help those who are genuinely in need.

Approaching people with trust and on an equal footing, who cannot (temporarily) provide for their livelihood, is the right approach – towards those who are doing their best. However, the state must not act more stupid than it is towards everyone else.

Especially since some individuals do earn additional income from the basic income, cash in hand, gross for net. This is a blind spot in the debate. Nothing exact is known. It would be the task of the policy to look much closer here.

And with regard to the people who had to flee from Ukraine to Germany, there is far too much of a shrug principle. In Germany, a much lower percentage earns their livelihood than in other European countries. Heil’s job turbo is coming far too late.

However, there is also plenty of bad populism, including from the political side. For example, when it comes to the issue of standard rates. There is less to be gained for the federal budget than is often suggested. Nor can the increase on January 1st be stopped with a ministerial stroke of the pen.

The idea turns against its inventor

By law, it is determined how

Die ausgezahlten Beträge müssen ermittelt werden, und viele Regeln basieren auf Entscheidungen des Verfassungsgerichts. Zurzeit hat die Bundesregierung schlichtweg Pech: Die Absicht, in Zukunft die Inflation schneller zu berücksichtigen, kehrt sich momentan gegen den Initiator um. Denn die Inflation ist genau zum richtigen Zeitpunkt gesunken, was die geplante Erhöhung der Regelsätze nun übermäßig erscheinen lässt.

Eventuell sollten die Regeln nochmals überarbeitet werden. Dies ist jedoch momentan nicht möglich.

Natürlich – auch in Bezug auf den negativ behafteten Populismus – dürfen wir nicht außer Acht lassen, dass das Bürgergeld das beinahe letzte Auffangnetz eines Sozialstaats darstellt, der zu viele junge Menschen unzureichend versorgt, schlecht bildet und ungeschützt ins Leben entlässt. Bei der Debatte über Arbeitsunwillige gehört stets die Frage dazu, welchen Lebensweg ein Mensch bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt verfolgt hat.

Doch, wenn der Arbeitsminister, wie kürzlich geschehen, kurz vor Beginn des Jahres 2024 plötzlich fünf Milliarden Euro zusätzlich für das Bürgergeld vorsehen muss – dann ist es keine zufriedenstellende Lösung, dem Wahlpublikum zu sagen, es sei bedauerlicherweise unter dem Strich nichts zu ändern.



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