Helmut K. Anheier
This week, PS talks with Helmut K. Anheier, Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Professor Emeritus at Heidelberg University’s Max Weber Institute, and a faculty member at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Project Syndicate: You recently reviewed four books on Germany, each of which offers a different take on your country, but all of which point to the same conclusion: “Germany’s political class has long indulged a dangerous complacency that can no longer be justified.” Of the various reforms and recommendations that the authors present – from Ulrike Herrmann’s “shared progress” at the European level to Christoph Butterwegge’s universal insurance system to Daniel Goffart’s EU-level tax reform – which are most urgent? Is there something about Germany’s economy or society that these authors missed?
Helmut K. Anheier: For government, the most important objectives are to reverse two key trends: rising economic inequality and declining social mobility. Policies that could advance these goals include a livable minimum wage, reforms to the “Hartz-IV” system for delivering unemployment and welfare benefits, and massive investments in education and skills training. To paraphrase the late sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf, such measures would cut the supply route to the new precariat.
To make these reforms financially sustainable, government must find new revenue sources. This requires tax reforms that correct blatant inequities, simplify a staggeringly complex system, and shift more of the burden to corporations and the digital economy, rather than low- and middle-income households. A financial transaction tax would be a good place to start. European Union-wide efforts to tax multinational corporations more fairly are also promising.
The four books I reviewed focus on economic and social policy. They neglect aspects of German society and culture that, to some extent, are rooted in the dangerous complacency of the country’s elite and upper middle class.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Anheier's picks:
by Eugen Ruge
Following the international success of In Times of Fading Light, a family saga about life in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Ruge heads to the 1930s to tell the story of three young communists who moved to the Soviet Union to escape the Nazi regime, only to find themselves in the midst of Stalin’s Terror. Skillfully combining fact and fiction, Ruge offers readers a fascinating account of how three idealists navigate the tension between conviction and doubt, obedience and knowledge, and loyalty and betrayal. How do you know who you are, when everything you believed is called into question?
by Jackie Thomae
Ruge was born to a German historian father in the Soviet Union in 1954 and later moved to East Germany. By contrast, Thomae was born in the GDR to mixed-race parents at a time – the 1970s – that many of its citizens recall as stable and hopeful. In Brothers, she tells a story about race, gender, and identity with a lightness and ease that is rare among German novels. A medical student moves back to his native continent, leaving behind two sons – one in Berlin and the other in Leipzig – each with a different mother. How the lives of the half-brothers unfold makes for gripping reading, offering important insights into the complexities of race and identity in today’s Germany.
by Saša Stanišić
The winner of the 2019 German Book Award, Origins tells the story of Stanišić himself, in a book that blends autobiography, novel, and essay with remarkable grace and coherence. Born in 1978 in the former Yugoslavia to a Bosnian mother and a Serbian father, Stanišić was forced to flee to Germany with his family to escape the Bosnian War. In telling his story, Stanišić engages the reader with a blend of humor, tragedy, and reflection, considering how past and current events have shaped not only his own identity and sense of belonging, but also those of people he’s known over the years. It’s worth noting that Stanišić is also an outspoken critic of Peter Handke, the Nobel laureate novelist who supported Slobodan Milošević’s regime in the 1990s.
From the PS Archive
Anheier suggests how developed countries should address worsening economic inequality and declining social mobility. Read more.
Anheier shows how small civic measures can go a long way toward ensuring stable, representative governance. Read more.
Around the web
Anheier and Stefan Toepler argue for governments to take a more proactive policy approach toward the non-profit sector, and adopt a differentiated model for regulating it. Read the research paper.