Changing direction rather than ramping things up

Prof. Dr. Claus Leggewie

I sit by the roadside.
The driver changes the wheel.
I do not like the place I have come from.
I do not like the place I am going to.
Why with impatience do I watch him changing the wheel?

Bertolt Brecht, 1953

Ramping things up: after the initial horror of the coronavirus crisis, the realists who want to offset possible deaths caused by the pandemic against the certain losses due to the crisis and revive “the economy” are breaking their cover. Ramping things up: like a blast furnace after a breakdown in its operations, a stalled engine, or stepping back on the accelerator after a speed limit. The idea is to return to the same direction and the same speed before, with the same fuel, and to go even faster.

Such a portrayal of the world after the coronavirus is wrong. It goes without saying that businesses must reopen, goods must be made, and work must be done. And, of course, that notions of deceleration are naive, as they can only be afforded by those who can rely on a highly developed economy. It isn’t about anti-economics, but about a different kind of economy.

Those who rely on schemes like "cash for clunkers” which even sent out the wrong signal in 2008, and now demand a return to business as usual plus to turn the economic downturn of the first quarter of 2020 into a new record high, are wasting the historic opportunity to transform the economy and society, which is in the interests of the majority of the working population, and something which most of them actually want.

One of the utopian slogans of May 1968 was “be realistic, demand the impossible”. The coronavirus scandal is making things possible that seemed completely impossible only a few weeks ago. As climate change and the extinction of species will cause far more death and suffering than a pandemic, right now, the impossible is the only realistic demand. The pandemic has shown us what is necessary: a public sector that serves the general public, because system-relevant infrastructure does not belong in the hands of private sector profiteers. In the health care system in particular, the obsession with globalisation has created a life-threatening dependency, which suggests an intelligent deglobalisation is needed, with the strengthening of regional markets. Moreover, the unequal consequences of the pandemic have brutally exposed the neo-colonial basis of the world economy. Even in wealthy societies, the main burden of the pandemic is being borne by the poorer sections of the population.

"Realists" are now suggesting that a severely damaged economy should not be burdened by increased climate protection and other environmental regulations. In fact, the very opposite is the case: the best way to revive the economy is with a determined preference for low-emission industries and businesses and a determined divestment from high-emissions sectors, starting with the rapid removal of the subsidies paid to fossil fuel industries. How can investments be steered into Funds For the Future for a sustainable economy, however? It would make sense for such a fund to be given revenue from taxes on CO2, estate taxes and income from emissions trading, and to channel the income from the Fund For the Future into sustainable value chains and a loop economy, the proceeds of which would flow back to the private households and state budgets over the medium term. We await this change of direction with impatience, but also with hope.


Prof. Dr. Claus Leggewie

University of Giessen
Claus Leggewie teaches political science and is holding the Ludwig Boerne Chair at Giessen University. Until 2017 he was director of the...

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