Two things are established beyond any reasonable doubt. First, inequality of income and, even more so, wealth have steadily increased in the OECD world since the 1980s. Second, prevailing levels and drivers of inequality are not just obscene in terms of any conceivable notion of social justice; they are also severely damaging for the entire economies, societies and polities affected, not just for the losers. The puzzle, both theoretical and very practical, is why capitalist democracies allow the serious self-inflicted damage of widening inequality to continue. One possibly promising practical answer is that (re)distributive policies are reframed so that they focus not on “the poor” nor on “the worker”, but on the citizen as the bearer and beneficiary of universal economic rights as distributive claims.
Claus Offe is Professor of Political Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and a member of the IWM Academic Advisory Board. He previously held chairs of political science and political sociology at the Universities of Bielefeld, Bremen and Humboldt University, Berlin. Offe belongs to the successor generation of the Frankfurt School and during his doctorate was assistant to Jürgen Habermas. He was a founding member of the German Green party and more recently of the Basic Income Earth Network – Germany. His publications include Die Teilhabegesellschaft. Modell eines neuen Wohlfahrtsstaates [The shared society. A model for a new welfare state] (with Gerd Grözinger and Michael Maschke, 2006) and Reflections on America. Tocqueville, Weber and Adorno in the United States (2005).
This keynote speech opened the conference Solidarity IX: On Distribution, jointly organized by Columbia University, IWM and the Social Science Research Council and generously supported by ERSTE Foundation and Karl-Renner-Institut.