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The misapprehensions of Jan Fleischhauer, part 2

May 5, 2012

In which I continue to rip holes into Jan Fleischhauers atrocious Spiegel column “Der Hartz-IV-Irrtum” (The misapprehension of Hartz-IV). Translation into English by yours truly.

Since I’m jumping right into the middle of the column here, I’d recommend reading part 1 first.

A plausible explanation of the astonishing stability of this environment of transfer…

First, plausible is not equal to true. Second, even if the number of unemployed has been constant for many years (a claim made earlier in the column, which I haven’t checked), that doesn’t mean it’s the same three million people who have been unemployed all those years. Ever heard of a dynamic equilibrium? They appear whenever the inflow (people losing their jobs) is equal to the outflow (unemployed people finding new jobs). In this way, it is perfectly possible to have a situation where the number of unemployed people in Germany lies constant at three million for ten years, and yet no single person has been unemployed for more than six months during those ten years.

Earlier, Fleischhauer conflated “unemployed” with “Hartz-IV-reciever”, though only 2/3 of the unemployed are on Hartz-IV, and less than half of the Hartz-IV-recievers are unemployed. (Source in German) My above reasoning applies regardless; even if Germany is constantly supporting a high number of people through the Hartz-IV-system, it doesn’t follow that anyone in particular is on Hartz-IV for an extended period of time. Some people probably are, but such things have to be counted separately.

…would be that many people, having built their lives upon state support, are only formally available on the job market.

Oh, you mean like those 1,4 million Hartz-IV-recievers who already have a job?

Either because it doesn’t pay for them to hold a proper job –

Correct for once, though I get the feeling that this is another “I’m not racist, but…”-type fig leaf. I cannot stress this enough: according to official German statistics, thirty percent of the people recieving Hartz-IV are working. There are lots of jobs out there not paying enough to survive on.

– or because they are already so far removed from working life, that they find it a chore to get up in the morning.

Look, have you ever been depressed? I mean properly depressed, to the point of being prescribed medication for it? I have. I used to wake up in the morning and feel that “nobody cares whether I get out of bed or not”. In my case it was just a feeling, but an awful one nonetheless. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where that would be a correct assessment of reality.

There are other reasons to not want to get up, too. My husband is a textbook example of an evening person. No matter what his situation is – employed or unemployed, happy or sad, having slept three, seven or twelve hours – it is always a chore for him to get up! Some people are just born that way. It’s not fair to equate it to laziness, and it certainly doesn’t preclude wanting or holding gainful employment.

The destructive impact of longtime idleness has been described adequately by social scientists, that isn’t the problem. One should just refrain from talking about it in too much detail.

Details aren’t the problem, Fleischhauer. Your stinking, baseless assumptions are.

Recently in a discussion, I recommended talking to school dentists to find out what degree of negligence can be seen in the teeth of second-graders, since their parents have neglected to explain the use of a toothbrush to them.

Oh, goody, you’re providing an example! You are assuming that the social class of the parents can be seen in the status of the teeth of eight-year-olds. This is an assertion of fact and could be proven or disproven by talking to dentists (or better, by doing statistical analyses on dental records; the plural of anecdote is not data). I’m all for checking it. You are also, by using the word “negligence”, showing that you consider poor people to be bad parents. You are even explicitly saying that the reason poor children have bad teeth (an as yet unproven assertion on your part) is that their parents can’t be bothered to take proper care of them. As I said – stinking, baseless assumptions.

Let’s look into other possible explanations for the assertion that poor children have bad teeth. Everybody has dental insurance in Germany, so that’s not it. But – at least for adults, and I believe it goes for children too – the co-pay for a visit to the dentist is ten Euro. Ten Euro can buy you a pair of (very cheap) shoes. Or almost 30 kg of flour. Ten Euro is money when you’re poor, is what I’m saying. Toothbrushes and toothpaste don’t come for free either. And then we have the food issue. Specifically, how cheap food doesn’t taste good, and how the usual masking agent is sugar. And I haven’t even mentioned yet how exhausting it is to be poor, and how tired you’ll be at the end of the day, and how you’ll have less energy left to deal with a child cheating on the toothbrushing than you would have if you weren’t poor.

This suggestion earned me first popular disapproval, and then a rebuke from “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. The headline of the article was “The discussion club of the middle class”.

The word I’m translating with “discussion club” is “Stammtisch”. Literally, it means “the usual table”. Figuratively, it refers to a group of friends meeting regularly at a bar or restaurant. More figuratively yet, it refers to the kind of discussions conducted at such meetings. Hence “discussion club”.

I’ve never understood what’s so wrong about discussion clubs, and I’m particularly confused that this criticism is coming from Bavarians. I consider the discussion club a place for chummy get-togethers.

Head. Meet. Desk. You don’t understand? You really don’t get it? Can you be that stupid? Of course there’s nothing wrong with meeting your friends in bars and discussing politics. The second part of that headline is the critical part. The discussion club of the middle class. I can’t believe you don’t get it. You used exactly the same argument yourself at the beginning of your column! “The authors mostly come from the post-materialistic middle class, that is, an environment where the way of living couldn’t be further from their objects of study.” Remember? Being middle class means that you have no effing clue what it’s actually like to be poor, unless you listen to poor people. Even I get that, and I’m middle class myself.

Yet it was somehow clear that in giving my suggestion, I had misbehaved.

So you got that much. Good. I guess you’re not a total imbecile on social interactions, then.

Germany is a rich country, and has thus so far been able to afford pacifying the lower class through money transfer.

But when the money runs out, all the poor people will rise up and get you! Together with all the scary scary Muslims! It’s the revolution! Run for your life!

About 50 billion Euro are spent on Hartz-IV each year by national and local authorities. Only half of this flows directly to the recievers as monetary support. The other half goes to the various educating and re-educating projects that every Hartz-IV-reciever has to participate in from time to time, to keep recieving support.

Wow. We are spending 25 billion a year on education for people on social support? Has there been any studies showing how helpful these educating measures are? I mean, do people actually find jobs as a consequence of recieving this education? Could we spend the money better? Is there a reason we can’t use it to, say, increase salaries for people working in the health care sector? Or better yet, hire more caretakers from the unemployed among Hartz-IV-recievers?

Also, Fleischhauer: you have majorly contradicted yourself. First, you claimed that people on Hartz-IV were lazy slobs who couldn’t be bothered to go to work. Now you admit that in order to recieve Hartz-IV, it is necessary to take part in educational projects. Being on time for a lecture is not a different skill from being in time for work.

Whoever is familiar with the internal workings of the German welfare state will immediately realize, that many interests are involved here.

What? I don’t ever… are you trying to say that social workers are conspiring to keep the poor dependent on Hartz-IV, so that they themselves won’t lose their jobs? That their boss the high-level bureaucrat is doing the same, so as not to be forced to reduce his empire? That some company providing education for Hartz-IV-recievers has enough political clout to keep the poor down, so that there will be a steady supply of government money to teach them? I thought your main thesis was that poor people are poor because they don’t want to work, not because some sinister government conspiracy refuses to let them out of its clutches.

Thankfully, there still exists enough people who would rather work than idle their days away at home, even when they don’t really benefit financially.

I bet you my monthly unemployment support that at least one million people, out of the two million unemployed on Hartz-IV, would rather work than “idle their days away”.

The father in a four-person family, who today mans the supermarket checkout or hauls moving boxes, could quit his job tomorrow and not be worse off. Hartz-IV pays 1800 Euro a month to a household with two children – with more than two children, it becomes substantially more.

Yes, because every additional child will also need to eat, duh. Also, if a full-time job pays less than going on social support, that’s not necessarily a sign that social support is too high. It could also be the case that salaries are too low. Living near the level of social support is no picnic (this I know from experience). It’s can’t-afford-to-have-lunch, meat-only-once-a-week, no-traveling-ever, hand-me-down-clothes, can’t-afford-a-car, and oh-shit-I-have-to-pay-that-bill-too. By the tales of people who’ve done it, it gets even worse further down on the income scale.


I need a break from this toxic drivel. Not only is it extremely hostile, it’s also written in the style of a German philosophy textbook: super-long sentences, highly abstract, strange word-usage. Difficult to translate to English. I have to change the style slightly and break up the sentences to make it work.

And the worst is yet to come. Stand by for part 3: Fleischhauer goes xenophobic!

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