We bone scaffolds of commerce

Friedhelm Hengsbach is one of Germany's best-known social ethicists. In an interview with our site, the Jesuit talks about the consequences of an economic system that has lost sight of the human being – and its natural limits.



Interviewer: You once said: the economy shapes our lives down to our skeleton. Why?

Hengsbach: Because it is also the prerequisite for a successful life. Without a certain material endowment and also the service that we take for granted, even service that restores our health or opens up educational opportunities for us, is mediated through money. And also about economic effort, so also work. In this respect, it is simply part of the daily context in which we live. On the other hand, there is of course a kind of imperialism. For 30 years it was said that the market is always better than understanding, than solidarity, and therefore everything that is somehow significant in society must be economized or commercialized. And that is the alarming thing, which really goes to the skeleton: that it leaves us no heart, no feeling for other people, does not strengthen family solidarities, but rather corrodes them once again. Also the schools: Everything is now being put into a commercial pattern through quality management and documentation. This is the case at universities, in hospitals, in social services and in nursing homes. That is the frightening thing: that we practically only walk through the world as the skeleton of commerce.
Interviewer: Why are we doing this? Why is commerce the quality management?

Hengsbach: How to recognize the quality of a person? Or how do I recognize the quality of a hospital or an educational institution?? In the end, everything is translated into financial figures. In the past, market success was the criterion by which the value of a company was measured, including the skills of its employees, the satisfaction of customer needs, and performance that satisfied customer needs. Today, if extreme as with DAX companies, it is purely a financial indicator. That is the negative side: that commerce practically rules us.
Interviewer: How can we break away from it again?

Hengsbach: There are counter-movements. The green movement is one element: the economy must not destroy nature. In the past, the labor movement opposed the idea that economic categories endangered health. Or brings wages that can help feed a family. There are also now counter-movements, for example, a counter-movement against the predominance of financial capitalism. That's the positive side: that nothing can be pushed so far as to eat our bones. Before that, there are people who say: you have a heart, you have organs, you have feelings, love is a thousand times more important than that the cash register is right.

The interview was conducted by Angela Krumpen.

Friedhelm Hengsbach was a guest on this site on Tuesday.de "human beings. Listen to the broadcast in full length here.

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