In the light of the corona pandemic with state-organized test and vaccination offers as well as government aid worth billions for Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof, Lufthansa and TUI, the rejections of the neoliberal age are increasing. There is talk of the corona crisis as the “last nail in the coffin for neoliberalism” (Marcel Fratzscher) as well as of the “corona shock that will plunge neoliberalism into a lethal crisis” (Bert Rürup). Even Christian Lindner said in the German Bundestag in spring 2020: “Now is the hour of the state. We need him for everything that goes beyond the ability to take on individual responsibility. ”In view of the numerous unexpected“ state confessions ”, the question arises whether a return of the state and thus of public services is imminent. There are enough reasons.
Prices for local public transport are rising even where bus and train timetables are thinned out or stops are abandoned. More than 1,000 communal bathing establishments have been closed in the past ten years, although financially weak families can often no longer afford to visit privately operated “fun pools”. Even politicians, who otherwise rely on the market as a panacea for economic prosperity and social progress, criticize the closure of post offices, the thinning of the delivery intervals and the regular increase in postage.
Since the privatization of old-age provision à la Riester and Rürup, worries have raged even in the middle class that they will not be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The privatization of the toll collection company Toll Collect, the failure of which is likely to cost the federal government just under a billion euros, documents the economic damage to the land associated with numerous privatizations as well as the motorway service stations bundled under the umbrella of Tank & Rast GmbH. While Sanifair – and thus the Abu Dhabi State Fund, among others – generates millions with our toilet visits, the federal government makes millions in annual losses through the construction and maintenance of parking and rest areas along the highways.
Despite these downsides of privatization policy, which have been evident for years, can one believe that broader public displeasure will now arise because we have learned in the corona pandemic what it means when health care based on business criteria takes the place of health care based on patient needs ? Hardly likely.
The greens sway
Rather, the lack of respiratory masks, disinfectants and ventilators, which was rampant at the beginning of the corona pandemic, will soon escape the collective memory. On the other hand, not only the taxpayers’ association will continue to remind us at regular intervals that the federal, state and local governments are “wasteful” and “frantic about spending”. The public debt ratio, which has risen massively as a result of the pandemic, will soon collide again with the only temporarily suspended debt brake – and the postulate of privatization with its tempting one-off proceeds will return to the focus of financial policy considerations.
It is therefore to be feared that the turnaround in privatization policy will not materialize even after the formation of the next federal government. As before, the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance, which is still headed by Olaf Scholz (SPD), shows a clear commitment to the “lean” state: “Through privatization, the state and companies gain freedom of action: the federal government releases potential for reform and companies increase their efficiency.”
The fact that the Union, which insists on tax cuts again in the Bundestag election campaign, will break with the neo-liberal zeitgeist is just as impossible as a departure from the debt brake under Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which has now been anchored in the constitution. Even the position of the alliance Greens is ambivalent. Although there is also a clear commitment to public services in their Bundestag election program, public-private partnerships are just as categorically excluded as the status of Deutsche Bahn as a stock corporation. And as a reminder: no federal government has implemented more privatizations than the red-green “reform alliance” led by Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer on its “third way”.
Without an exhaustive lobby register, the program of state self-disempowerment will continue to fall on fertile ground. Countless lobby organizations still ensnare politicians at pompous receptions, with detailed statements and face-to-face discussions in order to emphasize their corporate and industry interests. The ministries of defense, interior affairs and transport alone spent almost 418 million euros on external consultants in 2019. Private-sector interests are increasingly gaining ground in the plenary chambers through “Janus-faced” MPs. Numerous politicians already have time-consuming “secondary jobs” in business as elected officials or are promoted to lucrative posts in the private sector through the lobbyist revolving door at the latest after their mandate.
When former SPD party leaders like Sigmar Gabriel put themselves at the service of Deutsche Bank or long-standing EU commissioners like Günther Oettinger (CDU) hire a dozen private employers such as the management consultancy Deloitte and the fund company Amundi without a “cooling off” period, this is not only a threat democratic principles. It always promotes the sell-out of the state – especially since modern lobbyism has hidden ways of influencing it, especially in areas that are “prone to privatization”.
This includes ministries outsourcing the formulation of legal texts to law firms such as Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Gleiss Lutz. Day and night, corporate and tax consultancies such as McKinsey & Company, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, Bain & Company, PWC, Ernst & Young, KPMG and the Boston Consulting Group address the question of how public property can be liquidated in favor of private investors. The placement of loan officers in ministries has long been established as a form of “deep lobbying”.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the next federal government will return to the policy of the “lean” state after overcoming the corona crisis and continue the course of privatization. In any case, it would be worth intensifying the debate that was last started by Mariana Mazzucato under the heading of “re-imagining public value”. The Italian-American economist used the history of the development of important technical innovations such as the GPS navigation satellite system, the Internet and microprocessors to impressively demonstrate that state capital was and is indispensable for the development of many technological innovations.
To excuse local authorities
Perhaps the future federal government will also come to the conclusion that a tax system that discriminates against work and privileges capital not only deepens the gap between rich and poor, but also increases the pressure to privatize. All that needs to be understood is an iron economic law: high incomes are characterized by a higher savings rate than low incomes. Those who earn high incomes are looking for profitable investment opportunities, especially when capital market rates are low, as is currently the case, and are pushing for the privatization of public infrastructure – preferably through public-private partnerships.
Should the serious disruption of economic cycles in the course of the corona crisis prevent the return to blind faith in the market, valuable information can be found in the “election program” that the initiators of the Freiburg discourse presented. There it says, among other things: “If we want to create equivalent living conditions everywhere in Germany (as stipulated by the Basic Law), the financing of the municipalities must be regulated anew. Municipalities with high debts are seldom victims of local politicians who are crazy about spending, but rather a lack of structural and regional policy on the part of the federal government. And all too often the federal and state governments impose tasks on the municipalities without handing over the check. “
Therefore: Instead of continuing to sacrifice public services on the altar of the market, we should realize that the strength of a society is measured by the welfare of the weak. However, the well-being of the weak can only be preserved and promoted if (survival) goods and services are available to all people regardless of their purchasing power.