Whether our society emerges from the ongoing crises strengthened or weakened depends on how a country and its elites interpret and deal with them. Political scientist Christoph Butterwegge has published a new book that describes the most important ways out of the crises.

Crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the energy price explosion after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and inflation, whose peak appears to have been overcome but which may flare up again, can both (destroy) social cohesion and strengthen community spirit. This essentially depends on how a country or its elites interpret and process them. Are scapegoats or solidarity-based solutions being sought for this?

Crises usually shake a society and exacerbate the conflicting interests and social inequalities that exist. However, it can also be viewed as a major challenge and overcome with solidarity, without people having to fear decline, being humiliated and plagued by material worries or fear of loss. This requires suitable measures in the education, health and social systems.

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz strictly rejected the thesis of a division in society in his New Year’s address broadcast by ARD and ZDF on December 31, 2021, and declared the opposite to be correct on the grounds that during the pandemic crisis situation he saw impressive solidarity, an overwhelming willingness to help everywhere I perceive a new coming together and underhooking.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier makes a very similar statement in his book entitled “We”, which was recently published: “We are not a ‘divided’, a ‘polarized’ or a ‘broken society’.” The opposite view is taken here , because the gap between rich and poor has widened and because growing inequality is ultimately poisonous for social cohesion and representative democracy.

This is shown by the falling voter turnout of low-income sections of the population, the voting behavior of middle class members plagued by social concerns and concerns about their existence, and the enormous influence of very rich citizens on legislative processes and government decisions. In a situation of crisis or upheaval that is difficult for the population to understand, many people turn away from “moderation”, the established parties and parliamentary democracy because they have not solved their social problems and have not represented their interests at all or only represented them inadequately.

Chancellor’s appeals to “hook up”, “stand together” or “stick together”, accompanied by the anthem “You’ll never walk alone”, which fans know from several football stadiums, are of little use. Nor can they hide the fact that the recent crises have severely shaken the country and shaken its residents. Due to the rapid succession and accumulation of crisis phenomena, people whose material situation is precarious in particular feel overwhelmed.

To ensure that all people have the same educational opportunities, more efforts should be made to equalize the unequal distribution of material resources among families in daycare centers and schools – as best as possible.

This requires, above all, a school structural reform, better equipment in educational institutions, smaller groups/classes/courses with excellently trained teachers and specialists and regular further training for staff. It is also necessary to hire more school social workers and psychologists.

Nurses, geriatric nurses and nursing assistants, who are particularly poorly paid, were considered “heroes” during the pandemic without any investigation being done as to why their salaries, working conditions and social status lagged behind the general development. Otherwise, change processes would have come into focus that have so far received little attention in terms of their negative effects: German and foreign financial investors are taking over more and more hospitals as well as retirement and nursing homes because they promise high returns due to the collective aging of our society.

Since personnel costs are greater in the healthcare sector than in other sectors, the operators of such facilities try to reduce wages and save staff, which leads to work intensification and growing dissatisfaction among employees.

The health reforms implemented shortly after the turn of the millennium have proven questionable in the pandemic state of emergency. The per-case flat-rate system for hospitals, which replaced the cost coverage and replaced it with service remuneration based on diagnosis-related case groups, was not helpful.

Instead of days of stay and care rates, remuneration has since been made based on a catalog of services in which certain operations are particularly profitable. From then on, private clinics concentrated on the insertion of artificial hip and knee joints, vascular surgery and cardiological procedures, whereas emergency rooms and births were not very lucrative for them.

Good health care close to home for all parts of the population became a long way off. The hospital reform pushed forward by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach without the participation of the federal states does not solve the problem.

The most important lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic, the energy price crisis and inflation is to no longer rely on the market where public services and health care for the population are at stake. If the welfare state provides more comprehensive support for the development of social, educational and care infrastructure and makes sufficient public investments, society can remain functional even in the event of a national or global disaster, dealing with the problems associated with it and protecting its most vulnerable members.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Butterwegge taught political science at the University of Cologne from 1998 to 2016 and recently wrote the book “Germany in crisis mode. Infection, invasion and inflation as a social challenge” published.