Social inequality Is it okay to be rich??
Olaf Scholz (SPD): "Most people can probably agree that wealth in itself is not a bad thing
M. Popov / imago images/Metodi Popov
Money is not something you talk about, they say. But that doesn’t apply if you’re finance minister, so Olaf Scholz had to answer somehow when he was interviewed on ARD’s "Report from Berlin" program was asked the question by an audience member: "How rich are you personally, Mr. Finance Minister??" Hardly anyone would probably expect Scholz to name the sum that is in his account in response to this question. He is in any case someone who sees interview questions more as diffuse incentives to express himself than as actual questions, but in this case he opted for an answer that got him into some trouble on social networks: "I earn quite well. I would not consider myself rich."
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Now it is such a thing with wealth. You can feel it or not, but you can also attach it to numbers. One definition that is often used is that people are considered "income rich." apply if they have at least twice the median income available in a month. Median income means that half the population has less income and the other half has more income. For Germany, according to the Institute of the German Economy, this means that anyone who receives at least 3892 euros net per month as a single person is considered to have a high income. Or as a childless couple 5294 euros.
Born in 1986, was born in Poland and grew up in Berlin. She studied philosophy and social sciences and has been working as a freelance author since 2009. Her feminist bestseller "Untenrum frei" was published in 2016 by Rowohlt Verlag. In 2018 she published "Die letzten Tage des Patriarchats" (The Last Days of Patriarchy), a collection of columns from SPIEGEL and "taz".
So much for the statistics. According to the Institute of the German Economy, many people think that someone who earns at least 7,000 to 10,000 euros is actually rich.000 euros a month. According to the Federal Ministry of Labor (Scholz’s former workplace), many people see the limit as at least 5000 euros. Whichever definition you use: Olaf Scholz gets around 16 euros a month.000 euros gross, his wife Britta Ernst earns around 14.000 euros. This puts you among the highest-income percent in Germany.
What is Scholz trying to say that he does not consider himself rich? It’s true that surveys show time and again that people from the upper class feel they are much lower down and still belong to the middle class (the most famous example is Friedrich Merz). But when you’re finance minister? And: if you’re a Social Democrat who wants to be chancellor, wouldn’t it be, shall we say, tactically smart to at least own up to the fact that you make a relatively large amount of money compared to the people you want to be elected by?
He can’t even help it – if you look at it benevolently – because his ministerial salary is fixed, but he could have answered exactly the same way. He could have mentioned his income, it is public anyway, and said: "This is a lot of money for some people, I understand that. But that’s how much you earn as finance minister. You could call that rich, but of course there are people who earn considerably more." Everything about it would have been right. He could also have said: "Yes, of course, I have a gross income of 16.000, but I always donate at least half to Sea-Watch and Doctors Without Borders", but well, nobody expects that. (From him.)
Can you expect someone without any class consciousness to stand up for social justice if he has no idea how his self-assessment affects people who earn less money – in other words, the vast majority of people??
Unlike in the U.S. with Donald Trump ("I’m really rich"), in Germany it would be hard to imagine a politician regularly declaring publicly how rich he is. Although, for example, members of the Bundestag with their income are all income-rich according to the above definition.
Scholz received criticism for his answer from various political directions: People from the FDP, the Greens and, logically, leftists found his statement unrealistic and impertinent. But some also defended him: "You shouldn’t always expect the worst from politicians. Scholz, like all Germans, simply does not like to talk about money and is "ashamed" of it, tweeted FDP politician Helmer Krane. Apart from the fact that it’s a punchline that a finance minister supposedly just doesn’t like to talk about money, the shame thing is of course an interesting thesis.
Is it embarrassing to be rich? Why do so many people who are rich – whether in monthly income or in total assets – find it so difficult to recognize themselves as rich and call themselves such?? Are you a braggart if you declare that you are rich?? Or could it be that there is an acceptable middle ground between boasting and denying reality? Probably most people can agree that wealth in itself is not a bad thing. The question is: Where does the money come from and where does it go?? So: Did you get it in an ethical way and do you handle it responsibly?
Even people who think that wealth is intrinsically bad because it means inequality can presumably buy into the idea that someone who got high income and/or wealth in this society – before the anti-capitalist revolution – through non-criminal circumstances is behaving okay if he or she simply gives away enough of the money to other, poorer people.
Without sensitivity for the finances of others
The problem is not rich people per se. The problem is rich people who are not aware of their privileges and at the same time want to decide about the finances of other, poorer people. It cannot go well. Unfortunately, people who earn a lot of money sometimes lose their sensitivity for how little money others have.
A little anecdote on the side: For research reasons, I once attended a "webinar" of an author ("Madame Moneypenny") who specializes in women’s finances, it was about tips for better money management. At the end you got a notepad. The top tip was that you should always carry 500 euros with you: "If you always have a 500-euro bill with you, your subconscious will be trained to develop a wealth consciousness."
A brief reminder about the financial situation of women in Germany: Only 10 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 50 earn more than 2,000 euros net per month. For most women, carrying around 500 euros as a talisman would be about as useful as walking across an intersection with your eyes closed as a mindfulness exercise. Such ideas come about when rich people lose their connection to the bottom.
But back to Scholz: of course, the need to not call oneself rich, even though one is, can be explained culturally: Hashtag "Protestant Ethics". But not everything that can be culturally explained is unchangeable and good. A politician who admits to being rich and at the same time declares that he is aware of the responsibility this entails would come across as more credible than one who sees his money as "quite good" Talking down income. Most people don’t want to expropriate the rich, they just don’t want to be screwed over.