A German Slow-Growth Recipe For Greater 'Prosperity'

Charged with redefining the way well-being is measured in Europe's biggest economy, German social scientist Meinhard Miegel sees the national debt crises as a sign that people will need to find new ways of being satisfied with less.

Trader Dirk Mueller at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange
Trader Dirk Mueller at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange
Dorothea Siems

BONN - Many Germans are beginning to doubt traditional economic and growth models. But you still wouldn't know it looking at their consumption habits. Individual contribution to a sustainable economy is generally limited to buying energy-saving light bulbs and diligently sorting their recyclables and trash.

Bonn-based social scientist Meinhard Miegel's goal is to change this. And a paper he has written, Von der Konsum- zur Wohlstandskultur ("From a Consumer Culture to a Prosperity Culture"), lays out how, working together, politicians and everyday citizens can create a viable economy.

Miegel is one of the experts for the German parliamentary commission that seeks to establish new definitions of growth, well-being and quality of life. He represents the "Unionsfraktion" -- Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) parties -- on the committee.

Founder of Denkwerk Zukunft – The Foundation for Social Renewal -- Professor Miegel believes that major social changes are necessary not only to safeguard society but to keep people satisfied with their lives despite diminishing material wealth.

According to Miegel, the state should pull back from involvement in many areas, leaving more space open to citizen initiatives, and the wealthy should not only take on more responsibility, but shoulder greater financial burdens as well.

Miegel says economic growth is being bought with the destruction of the very things we need to live. Damage to the environment, dwindling resources, shattered societies, and mounting national debts, demonstrate that not only Germany but all industrialized countries are living above their means, he says.

Miegel predicts that "after decades of material growth we are now facing a long period of time over which we will see continually decreasing material wealth."

He points out that in the last few years, 80% of Germans saw losses to their real income, thus raising the question "of how to maintain a functioning democratic society in the face of decreasing material prosperity."

Professor Miegel sees some progress being made as people come around to a different way of thinking, including Chancellor Angela Merkel's admission that it was a fatal mistake to think exclusively in terms of an economic growth model.

Expanding definition of prosperity

Of course, society, and not least entitlements, risk falling apart if there is no economic growth, and the stability of the financial system would face acute danger. "Big questions remain," says Miegel.

A prerequisite for change is an "expanded definition of prosperity," the study states. Instead of passively consuming more and more, people pursue interests like art or the outdoors, practice more sports, get active in political life or social causes.

According to Stefanie Wahl, the managing director of the Denkwerk Zukunft foundation, what's needed are more "pioneers of change." Such things as car-sharing systems, multi-generation housing, and greening initiatives are catching on.

To bring all this about, individual projects should be linked so as to form a network, prominent members of society should be encouraged to set a good example, and institutions and businesses should play an active role, the paper goes on to say. Any measure that relies on non-replenishable resources should be phased out. Another imperative: prices of products should have the cost of the toll they take on the environment factored in, while their labels should state clearly exactly how they are produced so consumers can see for themselves how environmentally sustainable products are.

Miegel and Wahl believe that their recommendations for change offer an ideal opportunity to re-think the role of the state, which since the mid-20th century has been involved in many areas that could be handled by society -- in many cases today, citizen involvement is shunted off to the sidelines.

And one of the results of overextended governments is massive national debt. "Many states behaved like drug addicts," says Miegel. "They need ever-increasing doses to feel good, until one day they take one dose too many."

Now, given the sheer amount of debt, credit is no longer a valid instrument to spur growth, he says. The state is going to have to both shrink and find a way to offer subsidies that encourage environmental sustainability. Subsidies paid to commuters that encourage people to live greater distances from their place of work should be stopped, Miegel says, as should lower energy tax for businesses.

Read the original article in German

Photo - artemuestra

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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