Futurologist horst opaschowski on the hopes of germans, irresponsible politicians and new parties

Horst w. Opaschowski was a professor of education at the university of hamburg from 1975 to 2006, founded the stiftung fur zukunftsfragen (foundation for future studies) in 2007 and has headed the institut fur zukunftsforschung (institute for future studies) in hamburg since 2011. In cooperation with the ipos institute, he has regularly conducted the national prosperity index for germany (nawi-d) since 2012. In an interview with telepolis, opaschowski warns of the debt trap, argues for greater popular participation and accuses the federal government of swapping.

Horst w. Opaschowski. Image: private prof. Opaschowski, you truncate the theses of your book "this is how we want to live!" on a representative study1 you commissioned last year. What results surprised you?

Horst opaschowski: let me give you two examples: 78 percent of the population demand more referendums; they are fed up with politics always having the last word. Who would have thought that 15 years ago? Moreover, the trend is clearly toward the family, with generational relationships becoming more important than partner relationships. 84 percent of germans are convinced that generational cohesion between grandchildren, children, parents and grandparents is becoming increasingly important. Only a few citizens rely solely on the statutory intergenerational contract.

Politicians who are proud of how quiet the country is

you say that citizens want to get more involved in politics – how does this fit in with the low voter turnout and the parties’ problem with young people??

Horst opaschowski: that fits together very well. People are dissatisfied with those very parties. They have the impression that politicians do not take their concerns seriously and are not interested in making our system future-proof. You’d be surprised if you knew how many politicians i’ve met who are proud of how quiet the country is. What do you mean?

Horst opaschowski: top politicians are currently acting according to two principles: 1) calmness is the first burger duty, 2) calming down is the first politician duty. The prime example of this approach is our chancellor, who always radiates calm, stability and security. Who does not remember how she stood in front of the cameras together with peer steinbruck and claimed: "don’t worry, her savings are safe." who female, probably both patted themselves afterwards on the thighs, according to the motto: "what did we just say there blob?" in short, politicians are acting negligently if all they do is shimmy from election to election, run up debts – and fail to tackle the rough ies of the future. German finance minister wolfgang schauble wants no new debt from 2015 – the first time in 45 years. That is the draw of a promise to future generations…

Horst opaschowski: …Mr. Schauble sells positive news with the wonderful words "black zero"! But if you take a closer look at the figures, you will quickly realize that this is a sham. To what extent?

Horst opaschowski: the finance minister is creating unforeseeable costs in the years to come and is not putting back a single cent – even though unexpectedly high tax revenues have recently been flowing into the state coffers. The fact is that if you don’t put anything back when times are good, you won’t have any reserves when times are bad. The result is chaos. Where are the urgently needed sustainability reserves?? Where is the demographic reserve? None of this exists. That is tragic.

The term "growth" is used for a lot of mischief anyway

the finance minister has long since announced more investments, keyword infrastructure.

Horst opaschowski: what we really need is a fund for the future. Instead, politicians are already discussing tax cuts again. Unfortunately, this is a cross-party problem. Incidentally, there was only one finance minister who, according to him, also drew the appropriate conclusions: karl schiller, 1972. He said: "i am not ready to incur debts at the expense of the next generations" – and stepped back. So you think it’s a trade-off when the federal government says it doesn’t want growth on credit?

Horst opaschowski: yes. There’s a lot of mischief going on with the term growth anyway. Most politicians associate growth exclusively with the economy. But where is the growth in education and quality of life?? When the concept of growth is broadly applied, something other than money, the economy and the market emerges. The spanish cellist pablo casals was once asked at the age of 92 why he played the cello every day at his age. He replied: "i think i’m making progress." so much for growth. In any case, germans now understand prosperity differently than they did 25 years ago. Namely?

Horst opaschowski: the four f’s: family, friends, peace, freedom. Material things are mentioned only afterwards. And it goes even further: 87 percent of 14- to 34-year-olds say: "i have a positive attitude toward life – i am optimistic about the future." and this despite the fact that many people are worse off today than their parents’ generation. We see that for many young people, career is no longer the ultimate goal. Unlike in the past, many people are no longer willing to sacrifice their private lives in order to climb a rung on the career ladder. The results of current studies, according to which it is increasingly a goal for young professionals to achieve civil servant status, thus fit into the picture. Germans crave security. Does prosperity need to be redefined?

Horst opaschowski: absolutely. Together with the ipsos institute, i am working intensively on the national prosperity index (nawi-d). The clear message: it is now more about personal and social well-being, less about material. In the future, prosperity can also mean owning less and yet living better. Questions like "do i really need my own car??" will play a greater role in the future.

More referendums, more say and disempowerment of the parties

in your book, you write that future policy is a taboo subject. With respect, prof. Opaschowski, was it ever otherwise?

Horst opaschowski: in antiquity, the emperor was responsible for questions of the future, later the church. Today politics would be responsible, the emphasis is on "would be". Because, unfortunately, it does not take the responsibility. The consequence i indicated at the beginning: the citizens go on the political offensive and the parties push back more into the second line. Can you prove that?

Horst opaschowski: two-thirds of germans do not trust their politicians to plan for the long-term future of the next generation. They believe that politicians are no longer up to the challenges of the day and that they usually appear to be driven, reacting only to shouted instructions. In view of global trouble spots, no surprise, right??

Horst opaschowski: no. But that is precisely why politicians should finally listen more to the voice of the people. More referendums, more rights to have a say – also at the federal level. That is the point. That all this led to a disempowerment of the parties is out of the question. So you think that many politicians are afraid of referendums??

Horst opaschowski: of course. The basic law states: all state power emanates from the people. The parties only have a say. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the moment. Just by the way: actually every minister is a finance minister. He distributes money. And he who distributes money has power. The ministry of family affairs alone has over 160 pots from which – depending on the situation and the political weather – money is taken. Giving out money obviously gives some politicians a lot of pleasure. You often talk to politicians, how do they react to your appeals??

Horst opaschowski: different. Three or four years ago, i gave a talk at the fdp party conference in berlin, where i also briefly discussed the flexi pension. When i said: "they are looking for liberal topics – here they have one!" the rulers applauded euphorically. And what happened in the following months? Nothing of the sort. Can you think of another example?

Horst opaschowski: sigmar gabriel recently presented the book by the president of the german institute for economic research (marcel fratzscher, "the german illusion", d. Red.). Promptly he again criticized the "science far from life". He does it more often. I consider such sentences to be a diversionary maneuver. Schauble was also recently asked what he does with all the forecasts as a responsible politician. He said that one would first read everything, then chop it all up – and then put some of the pieces back together again. In other words, politicians use scientific findings as an argumentation aid, not as a decision-making aid. Hearing you rant so passionately about politicians begs the question: why haven’t you founded a party yet??

Horst opaschowski: i am a politically thinking and politically acting person, but i don’t want to be taken unilaterally into the obligation. I could never blindly follow a party line. That would be nothing for me. I want to stay on exterritorial territory all my life (laughs). But once again for clarification: not all politicians act according to the described pattern. But?

Horst opaschowski: very, very many. Unfortunately! I have lectured for a long time in a state parliament. After my one-hour talk, a politician stood up and asked: "can you tell us how to get more members into the parties?" at that moment, i was frustrated. I could have done without the lecture.

Future does not take place

in which state parliament was that?

Horst opaschowski: (laughs) i won’t tell you that. But i’d like to give you another example: in the 1980s, i wrote to all the parties, and the question was, of course, about future policy "what are your party’s visions for the future up to the year 2000??" the general secretary of a people’s party wrote me back that they would not deal with such fantasies. Others did not answer at all. And what about today?

Horst opaschowski: if you are here tomorrow for a panel discussion on the subject of "germany’s future" when the government held its first meeting, people from all parties showed up and proudly announced what they were doing in terms of the future. The ie was not important, they were going to pay what they had previously thought of. "I am spending money here, financing a few day-care centers there and planning this and that project" – all this is for the actual future policy! After the publication of a study, it’s not the bundestag offices that get in touch first, but the advertising agencies. This speaks for itself. On a current occasion: are you actually one of those researchers who sympathize with the afd??

Horst opaschowski: i would not say that. It is rather that the success of the party does not surprise me. Especially since the afd takes up many ies that are close to the people. What do you say to those who say that the party plays on the fears of voters and is a danger to germany??

Horst opaschowski: it is not a disgrace that a party also takes up the fears of the people. One should not automatically put everything new into the right-wing radical drawer. Populism means a policy that pretends to be close to the people. Where is the problem? Even if not everything runs smoothly within the party, i see a lot of expertise there. For the chancellor, the future is bright: "the next three months". She once said this. If we asked her today, she would probably answer "the next three weeks". The afd actually stands for a future policy as you imagine it?

Horst opaschowski: oh, i would not say that. I am also not connected with the party. The fact is: at the beginning, people often think it’s just a professorial jungle, an old boys’ party, or something similar. Now everyone sees that this is not true. New parties are always viewed skeptically, that’s normal. The pirates had something primal, a lot of things reminded of the early days of the grunen. In contrast to them, however, the pirates are not getting any stability in them. It’s hard to compete politically with a bunch of individualists. Prof. Opaschowski, a mixture of pirates and afd…

Horst opaschowski: ..Would indeed be an interesting mixture (laughs)! There is always room for a party of the future! Every new party, which takes up future topics, i bring first of all sympathy to it. This does not mean that i will also like everything else that is in their programs. No, no, it is not that simple. All in all, i have always understood politics as provision for the citizen. I stay with that. (manuel schumann)

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