"Paul Lafargue spoke satirically about the first sinister
acceleration thrusts of early industry: "All individual and social misery comes from
a passion for work. O laziness, be merciful with your endless misery!: O
laziness, you are
the balm for the pains!"
On the Human Right to Laziness
The German Chancellor in the Struggle
against State-Subsidized Laziness
By Goedart Palm
[This article published in the
German-English cyber journal Telepolis April 9, 2001 is translated from the German on the
World Wide Web, http://wwwtelepolis.de/deutsch/inhalt/co/7336/1.html.]
Linda Evangelista wouldnt make
chancellor Schroder happy. The top model said she wouldnt even get out of bed for
less than $10,000 a day. Perhaps some recipients of income support and unemployment
benefits see life similarly when work under 1000DM monthly is offered them. Now this
idleness will be ended.
There is no right to laziness in our
society, said the pragmatic social democrat Schroder. Whoever refuses reasonable
work will receive reduced support.
No constitutionally guaranteed right to
laziness exists. However a natural right or human right is involved. Christ pleaded for
laziness at least in the Sermon on the Mount. Behold the lilies of the field how
they grow. They neither toil nor spin and yet I tell you Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these (Matthew 6,28-29). In the 19th century in
Gontscharovs Oblomov, the Russian soul (Volksseele) preferred remaining
in bed to hectic times and discovered laziness as a meaning of life.
This sense for the leisurely-contemplative
life has withered. Richard Sennett described the suffering of the flexible
person in the dotcom-society. Lifelong flexibility for lofty business goals is
emphasized. In turbo-capitalist times, even sweat jobs become attractive again
since the connection between the economic situation and full employment is regarded as
irrefutable. The chancellors verdict on state subsidized laziness is popular in the
ears of all those who slag away for little more than sustenance while others
are paid for idleness by the social welfare office. Resentment helped him to a good
Whoever denies the right to laziness is a
populist who speculates on voter moods. The economy is regularly seen this way. The
chancellor doesnt need more jobless. The government has the goal of reducing
unemployment to below 3.5 million by the 2002 Bundestag election. The number of unemployed
in Germany fell 113,100 in March compared with February to 3,999,600. This was the
smallest decline in the spring since the 1990 reunification.
The statistical governmental goal
doesnt ask about the economic meaning or quality of work. A McJob as a
bag-carrier may also be regarded as socially valuable work. The connections between the
numbers of the unemployed and economic development are hardly clear. More and more
businesses see the real danger that the German economy is strongly affected by the growth
weakness in the United States and its consequences for the international economy.
Is the question whether some alleged
social parasites live more or less in the last socio-topes of German laziness
and are completely irrelevant for the economic upswing exaggerated by the chancellor?
Since everything is somehow connected with everything else in the economy, the
lazy jobless must be described as the spoilsports in the solidarian
On the Nobility of
If the work of people supposedly ennobles,
the question remains why millions prefer to live so un-feudally. Work is regarded as the
foundation of social esteem. According to numerous studies, unemployment is the cause of
many forms of personal unhappiness and also for rising rates of criminality that cannot be
cushioned by the constitutionally guaranteed social state principle.
What is reasonable work? All work that pays
higher than unemployment benefits is considered reasonable. The German trade union
alliance sees the dangers of wage dumping. According to the DGB, the real
shirkers sit in the boardrooms where overtime is decreed and jobs arent
offered even in good profit- and growth conditions.
This is the populism of the opposite side
that can point to diets of parliamentarians, fat corporate profits, juicy settlements for
departing CEOs and executives with work overload. Whoever can work and will not work
cannot expect solidarity, the chancellor said. But can those who define the
reasonability of work for others expect much solidarity when they dont think any
more about the reasonableness of their own work?
Before capitalism was promoted to the
international economic order, such populisms were charged with the tried and tested
formula of the class struggle. The post-industrial social
parasites are coming out of the industrial reserve army today. Angela
Merkel abolishes the class struggle: We dont make policy for classes or
strata. The CDU (centrist-conservative party of Helmut Kohl) was and is the great party of
the middle. I dont want a society of false divisions in modernization losers and
modernization winners. I want a We-society [http://www.neue-soziale-marktwirtschaft.edu.de/wir.html].
That is a society that accepts changes through globalization and digitalization.
These changes from national economies to
boundless global business create immense problems for social systems and their labor
markets that cannot be solved in the windmill battle against social laziness.
Transnational divisions of labor, labor under virtual conditions and growing pressures of
lifelong learning reach the limits of reasonability for employees and national societies.
2.5 percent of present jobs in Germany can be found in the environment of the Internet.
The increase of jobs in the sphere of the New Economy is greater than in any
other branch. The way into the global information society euphorically welcomed with
tele-work, virtual businesses and the decontrol of digital everyday work produces hop0e
along with the apathetic outcasts of world society.
A national labor market policy or a rigid
application of the social state principle will not lead to an international adjustment of
human working conditions. The dangers of international outsourcing have intensified
enormously through the virtualization of working conditions. According to a bold
calculation of MIT, unforeseeable turbulences threaten anyway for the national labor
markets since 80% of all jobs in the leading industrial states will be shifted abroad by
the end of the decade.
Like other palliative rhetoric, the slogal
of the We society will not annul the growing digital gulf. Only vulgar
sociology believes that the differences between higher income persons and starvation wages
can be reduced to the social Darwinian distinction of diligence and laziness. To be sure,
the chancellors verdict over laziness may be excellently suited for the national
pride debate. However Germans by nature are very diligent, particularly in
On Laziness of
The problem of the chancellor and other
We-society theoreticians is an atrophied idea of work in which slaving
away and paid income, laziness and social crises are equated. Economic productivity
in the future will be increasingly independent of human labor. It becomes an intolerable
paradox in times of a raging technology not to define once celebrated automation, the
disappearance of stupid body drudgery and the cancellation of socially necessary work as
progress while waving the fetish of full employment.
The step-son of Karl Marx and precursor of
Marxism in the French working class movement Paul Lafargue used harsh words in his 1891
treatise The Right to Laziness (Le droit a la Paresse) long before
the development of fully-automated factories and human-friendly robotization:
The blind, absurd and humanly
murderous work mania/addiction has transformed the machine from an instrument of
liberation to an instrument for enslaving free persons. The productive power of the
machine has become the cause of the impoverishment of multitudes
capitalists to perfect their machines of wood and iron, one must raise the wages of
machines and reduce the working hours.
Redefining the individual or collective
purpose of labor under the new technological conditions is urged for future human work
Now and then work makes people poor, not
free. Germany as a performance- and start-up society is still not ready or able to pay for
necessary work. There is no pay for the work of housewives and mothers. Instead with the
social proscription of such work, it has become a paradoxical privilege of overstrained
families to find at least part-time work for mothers. A future tax reform that offers less
relief for families than singles doesnt seem to recognize this indispensable work.
Savings occur where lobbies are weak, not with resources that can be redistributed.
The treatment of non-profit or charitable
activities demonstrates that work is redefined. Here there is no salary system that could
make this work as attractive as it urgently needs to be in an increasingly splintered
society. This work is beyond the stock market quotations.
There is no right to laziness in this
society. This should also be true for laziness of thinking instead of presenting creative
models of society and work, labor, gainful activity, income and the
we-all-sit-in-one-boat mentality designed for an early industrial
turbo-capitalism. Before the cheap condemnation of parasites, the rigidities
of German labor law and the high non-wage labor costs for low-wage earners should be
reversed. Without speaking of a Manchester-capitalist hire-and-fire work
society, more flexible possibilities of changing jobs is still future music for businesses
Paul Lafargue spoke satirically about the
first sinister acceleration thrusts of early industry: All individual and social
misery comes from a passion for work. O laziness, be merciful with your endless misery! O
laziness, mother of the arts and the noble virtues, you are the balm for the pains of
humanity! However like all satires, this should not be taken seriously.