Last night on the German public radio station WDR-5 (a little like NPR) there was an extremely depressing story (in German) about the result of economic expansion coupled with social hot spots. The result is a generation of teenagers and young adults literally without any perspectives. WDR called it Generation: Useless!
Humans are extremely social creatures… and one of the central duties of human co-existence is to develop integration; therefore I find it terrible to think that someone is useless and dispensable. On the other side we have a reality in the workplace, forcing more and more people temporarily or permanently in a situation, where they not only feel useless but socially aren’t necessary and therefore forced farther and farther to the sidelines. New research speaks increasingly of exclusion. [my translation]
That quote from the social scientist, Franz Josef Krafeld sums up the current debate in Germany. A recently released study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES, a Social Democratic think tank; Stiftung = Foundation) confirms that social divisions are increasing in Germany with the development of a new lowest class (Unterschicht – my mistranslation should become understandable shortly). This has started an avalanche of debates in the current German coalition government and in intellectual circles.
One of the most important aspects of the new FES study isn’t the existence of the new lowest class (making up about 8 percent of the German population, 4 percent the west and 20 percent in the east) but rather the fact that this class has absolutely no economic or social perspectives. Lacking enough education and anything approaching social support groups, the youth in these classes have little or no chance of escaping the trap of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, leaving either crime, religious fanaticism, political extremism or often all three as the only outlets. The economic and social problems are exacerbated by enormous changes in the workplace; due to modernisation and rationalisation and driven by globalisation, ´where jobs that once would have been done by low or non-qualified personal, are now being done by robots, more educated persons (who themselves find the workplace increasingly competitive) or simply directly exported to low wage countries.
WDR makes the comparison of the current social tension in some areas of Germany to that of the powder keg in north Paris this summer during the riots. In Germany there are immigration issues although these have little or nothing to do with the scale of problems seen in other countries like France, UK and the US. After the Second World War, Germany imported large numbers of what were then called ‘guest workers,’ many from Turkey. The idea was that these workers would help rebuild Germany and then go home, thus nothing was done to integrate these men and women either linguistically or socially. The result of these policies, large numbers of a working class, often with poor knowledge of the German language coupled with religious and cultural differences, has resulted in a new ghettoisation with many cities having ‘Turkish quarters’ (Türkenviertel). Today, many of the third generation ‘guests’ have almost no chance of finding gainful employment. (To be fair, many are gainfully employed and have integrated themselves into German society while preserving their cutural differences.)
But not only do the immigrant youth have a problem. As can be seen in the statistics, former East German citizens, especially those born right around the reunification have similar problems with different causes. The absolute collapse of industry following the fall of the East German regime, followed by ineffective (and what I would call typically Democratic) attempts to shore up the economy, left large numbers of East German youth without vocational prospects. Since there was little or no work to be had, the more capable or adventurous moved west, leaving behind those too timid or those unable or unwilling to adapt to the new social structure. Here the resultant political mixture is even more vile with the resulting rise of the Neo-Nazis; a most current example being last month’s election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where the right extremist party NPD won 7.3 percent of the vote.
Spiegel-Online in it’s coverage (German) of the issue makes several important other points.
The study showed a paradox: although the German government has extremely high social spending levels – reaching about 30 percent of the GNP – conditions are below average. In a social ranking of 24 countries, German reached an exceedingly poor 21st place.
Also the alarming political viewpoint in large parts of the population, as the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has now determined, isn’t really new. More and more people are disappointed in democracy as was shown during the presentation a new statistical report from 2006, produced in cooperation between the German census bureau [Statistishe Bundesamt] and the Office of Political Education [Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung]. According to the report, only 38 percent of the people in the new German states believed democracy was the best governmental form for Germany. [my translation]
Do I see this as a failure of Democracy? I don’t know but I do think it shows a failure of a 4 year election cycle. Do I see any solution, political or economic? No. Not right now and that both scares and depresses me.
The ghettos being created on the edges (and indeed centers) of European cities are becoming little different from slums on the outskirts of cities like Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro or Cape Town. I really don’t know if the marginalisation of large groups of people is necessarily that new to humanity. What is new is the realisation that this marginalisation is very, very wrong. The fact that those lost souls have literally no place left and no value except as consumers of specific form of produce – marketed exclusively for those groups – makes a dark cyberpunk future seem all too more realistic.
A useless generation.
Aside: After re-reading this entry, I noticed while it might be interesting, it had absolutely nothing to do with what I wanted to talk about. I’ll have to return to this topic again.