Have you accepted to be poor?

Classicism, explained clearly

The American Warren Buffett has so far earned 65 billion euros through resourceful stock market transactions. He once said: “There is a class struggle. But it's my class, the rich class, that's fighting this fight - and we're going to win. " Buffett said this because he discovered an injustice: If you make your money in stocks, you have to pay much less taxes than if you do it as a teacher, nurse, or garbage collector. It's the same in the USA as it is in Germany.

But who is more likely to buy stocks?

Those who can afford it.

Absolutely. That is why this taxation is doubly unfair. The poor have no money to make “work for themselves”. That's why they don't benefit from the low taxes.

Indeed unfair. But why are we talking about it here now?

In our society, many people are repeatedly disadvantaged. It is almost as if there are invisible laws that say: You are black, you must not become Federal Chancellor. You are a woman, you are not allowed to run a large company. Or also: You are poor, you are not allowed to have a say in how our society should be.

Thanks to the work of many committed activists, more and more Germans are becoming aware that blacks or women are disadvantaged, but many do not (anymore) know that people are also disadvantaged because of their social origin. There is not necessarily bad will behind this. We just don't talk about it enough. This type of discrimination is called classism.

It works in many directions. In the GDR, the "workers' state", bourgeois strata were discriminated against. But in our society, discrimination against the poor is the bigger problem. That's why I focus on them.

What does that mean: social origin?

Roughly speaking, social origin is based on two things: the income and the level of education of the parents. If they earn a lot of money or have a university degree, that also affects their children. Language trips are one example: if the parents have more money, their children can spend a school year abroad, for example in the USA. There they can make friends and learn English. Children of parents who don't have that much money tend not to be able to do that. They don't speak English as well later on, which can make it harder for them to get by at university or to advance professionally.

That is a little too little as evidence for me.

We know quite a lot by now, pretty much for sure, about how poor people are disadvantaged:

  • Children of rich parents are much more likely to make a lot of money later than children of poor parents - because parental assets give them more freedom in educational and career decisions.
  • Finding a job is almost impossible for people without a permanent residence.
  • On average, the poor die up to twelve years earlier than the rest of the population.
  • “Socially weak”, “Hartzer”, “Proll”, “Unterschichtfernsehen” - pejorative terms for poor people and their culture are part of everyday German language.
  • Society is repeatedly outraged about “child poverty” and discusses special aids - the children don't have to be poor if their parents weren't.
  • In the previous Bundestag, 90 percent were students and only ten percent were MPs without a university degree.
  • The tax rate for wealthy top earners has been reduced from 53 percent to 42 percent over the past 20 years. Value-added tax, which is particularly burdensome for poor people, was increased from 15 percent to 19 percent over the same period.
  • In German inner cities, homeless people are systematically evicted.
  • Life is particularly expensive for poor people, of all people.
  • All Hartz IV recipients are regularly lumped together if they are described as "lazy".
  • 50 percent of Germans believe that the long-term unemployed are “not really interested” in “finding a job”.

The last point is particularly nasty. True to the motto “people get what they are entitled to”, there is a widespread view in Germany that poor people are to blame for being poor and not “working their way up”. Studies show that the “elite” prefer to be recruited from the “elite” (and journalists preferentially from the middle class).

It's not enough to just work hard. Even if that is what the politicians keep swearing. Comedian Will Rogers put it in a nutshell: "If there was a connection between wealth and hard work, there would be a lot of very rich loggers."

Especially since discrimination can also be felt where the key to “advancement” is supposed to be. At school. The prejudices that float around in the adult world are carried over directly to the children. There is educational discrimination.

What is that supposed to be?

Actually, everyone should have the same opportunities at school, but that's not the case in practice. Children from poorer backgrounds do not go to high school as often.

Well, maybe they have bad grades and they don't belong in high school either!

That's the bad thing: Even if these children have grades that would actually be sufficient, their parents sometimes don't allow them to go to high school, perhaps because they believe “that this is not the right thing” or because the children should earn their own money sooner. At the same time, teachers tend to give children from the lower classes a recommendation for the Realschule or the Hauptschule, even if the students could actually go to the Gymnasium. Parents who went to high school themselves and maybe even to a university do a lot to ensure that their children go this way too, because they have seen for themselves how important the Abitur is in Germany.

So-called social mobility is tending to decline in Germany, which means that fewer and fewer people manage to leave their own class. When people do succeed, they very often justify it with their own performance. They often do not admit that they may have had advantages that others did not, or they may not even be aware of it.

But when these people have children, they do a lot to ensure that their children can be successful. They pay for tutoring, help with choosing the university and sometimes talk to the teacher. I don't mean to say that's bad, not at all! But if performance alone was really important, all they had to do was teach their kids to be hardworking. The rest would then come automatically. But parents prefer not to rely on that. Because they know: That's not true.

What we want to avoid - we as a society have agreed on that at least once - is too great an inequality. So if the board of directors earns three hundred times as much as the worker on the assembly line. Or for those who are already rich, taxes will be cut even further.

We can certainly argue about whether it is as bad in Germany as it is in the USA or in England or maybe also in Russia. But we see again and again that the supposedly “higher” sections of society look down on the supposedly “lower” strata. Not only in everyday life, also in top politics.

In July, Peter Tauber, the general secretary of the CDU, tweeted: "If you have learned something decent, you don't need three mini-jobs." This is where a widespread prejudice hides. Because Tauber is simply assuming here ...

Before you go any further: what are mini jobs?

These are jobs where no more than 450 euros are paid. You need several jobs to live off of them alone. This is what Tauber wanted to get at - and he assumes that it is the people's own fault if they have so many mini-jobs. Because they could have educated themselves better. 80 percent of mini-jobbers have a school leaving certificate and half have vocational training.

Deaf is not alone. I don't know if it does any better, but rising above the poor has a long tradition in top German politics across all parties. These are the most blatant examples I could find, but there are many, many more:

  • The FDP man Daniel Bahr: “In Germany, the wrong people have the children. It is wrong that only the socially disadvantaged have children in this country. "
  • The former SPD chairman Franz Müntefering: "Those who work must have something to eat, those who do not work need nothing to eat."
  • Here's another one from the CDU: “About a third of the unemployed do not want to work at all. They have come to terms with it, live well, and those who work black even live very well. "
  • 2007 made Oswald Metzger, at that time still a member of the Greens in the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament, with similar statements drew attention. Because he said: "Many welfare recipients see their purpose in life in stuffing carbohydrates or alcohol and sitting in front of the television."
  • The Hamburg AfD on the other hand, the unemployed wants to oblige the unemployed to work below the minimum wage through so-called community work: "Community work should include around 30 hours a week and be remunerated at around EUR 1,000 per month subject to social security contributions," says the electoral program.

What I don't understand: You can't tell whether a person is poor or not. Why should they then be able to be disadvantaged at all?

Mmh, maybe you can't tell by looking at him - but you can still feel it, in a few minutes, in which environment someone grew up and lives. At least that's what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu claims. This is not the place to go into detail about your (very interesting thoughts), so I am simplifying a little. Bourdieu said: There are still classes, but they don't look like they did in the 19th century, when it was always a question of whether someone is an entrepreneur or a worker. Today, classes are not just characterized by that. Rather, cultural and social capital also play a role. There is also symbolic capital, but I'll leave that out for the sake of simplicity.

Symbolic capital can largely be equated with prestige.

Cultural capital? Social capital? I once heard that people who throw around foreign words usually don't have a lot of important things to say.

One word comes to mind: “incompetence compensation competence”. Long word, but just means that you are able to deal with someone else's weaknesses. When we readers are confronted with such words, we also need a lot of “incompetence compensation competence”. Because apparently someone cannot express himself there in an understandable way.


Well, Bourdieu means literally cultural and social capital. We accumulate wealth in these fields that we can use to fulfill our wishes. This is how you can also define poverty: that someone is not in control of his own fate and his time and only has to drag, toil and create for others. By cultural capital, Bourdieu means things like books, paintings, school-leaving certificates, but more importantly: the education that a person can achieve. As social capital, in turn, he describes the relationships that a person enters into in the course of his life and already has through birth in a certain environment. New German is called something like this: a person's network.

Theresa had read my text and made another very good and important observation: “I find the definition of cultural and social capital very plausible and important in this context. It was only after reading Bourdieu and through this definition that I realized that I started with a different cultural and social capital (education, middle class) than many others. The mere fact that I meant that I had a right to things as a matter of course meant that I got them. So that social capital is really something like a form of wealth. And it works like with material wealth: Capital attracts even more capital. "

There is a wonderful joke that illustrates the power of social capital.

Are you really telling a joke here now?

Yes why not?

So: "I said to my son: 'You will marry the woman I choose." He didn't want that. So I told him it was about Bill Gates' daughter. Then he agreed. So I called Bill Gates and said, 'I want your daughter to marry my son.' So I told him that my son was the head of Deutsche Bank. Then he agreed. So I called the chairman of the board of directors of Deutsche Bank and said to him: 'I want you to make my son head of the bank.' He didn't want that. So I said to him, 'But my son is Bill Gates' son-in-law.' He agreed. "

How do I know where I am?

Nobody can say for sure. But a few questions will help you find your way around:

  • What education do your parents have?
  • How much money do you have?
  • Did you inherit
  • Do you live to rent or do you have a house?
  • Do you often go on vacation?
  • Is your family held in high regard?

But there is an even better way to determine where you are.


You can only get a good impression of your own position if you talk to other people about these questions.

If you look at the strata and classes in Germany, there is an interesting paradox: everyone wants to belong to the middle of society. Rich people claim that with their monthly net income of 4,000 euros they belong to the middle class and so do poor people, who may earn 13,000 euros a year after taxes and duties.

And how many people are considered poor in Germany?

Good question, hard question. First of all: there are only a few people in Germany who are as poor as, for example, some people in the African country of Chad. In theory, nobody in Germany would have to go hungry. When we talk about poverty in Germany, we therefore talk about so-called relative poverty. This means that it measures how poor someone is in comparison with their fellow human beings, and an income of 942 euros after taxes and duties is considered too little for an individual. If you apply this standard in Germany, 13 million people are at risk of poverty.

So many? Can not be!

In fact, there is always criticism of this definition of poverty. (Exemplary here.) There are of course exceptions. In these statistics, students are also considered poor, but they will have a well-paid job in a few years and would certainly not see themselves as disadvantaged. But the rest? Maybe they would never say that of themselves, but I guess he's really poor.

But how many are left? 10 million people, there aren't three million unemployed right now?

Germany sells more goods abroad than almost any other country in the world and is creating more and more jobs, but these jobs are not always well paid. 180,000 Germans work full-time and cannot make a living from it. Almost a million people have not had a job for more than a year, and that number is hardly decreasing. And the time that the German “long-term unemployed” spend without a permanent job is getting longer and longer. But that's not the worst.

So what?

Ask yourself what that does to you when you make an effort and in the end you never get anything right. For years. And then you turn on the television and politicians pick at you with slogans like the quotes above and pretend that you are just lazy and want to rest on the work of your fellow citizens. It's difficult to really put yourself in such a position, but take the last moment of failure, take away the frustration of that moment and imagine that it doesn't go away, but just keeps going on and getting bigger.

At some point: uprising!

Well, they don't have time for the revolution.

I do not understand.

Let's listen to that Warren buffet again from the beginning: "The rich put their money and the poor put their time." Families with more money have cleaning women, the poor clean themselves. When a trip is due, some take fast planes and ICEs and the other coaches. In order to be able to buy 50 euros, a person with a minimum wage works at least eight hours, the average earner a little more than three hours. Extrapolated, that makes a huge difference. But those are just the obvious things. There is something that research has only just discovered.


The poor make worse decisions.

Yes, otherwise they would probably not stay poor either ...

With a submission like this, you could easily take the post of Mr Tauber - if he were promoted.

I didn't mean it that way.

But that's how it works.The poor are asked to “work their way up”, but at the same time they are deprived of the most important thing that is needed for this: self-confidence. I mean that in the best sense of the word. The confidence in your own abilities, but also the knowledge of your own position. Anyone who is in a difficult situation and now resolves to make a real effort to achieve something must first overcome the prejudice that they would never really make an effort. It doesn't get any more stupid than that. Especially since these people really need their energy for other things. Because as I said: poor people make worse decisions. And it's not even their fault. Some spectacular research shows that.

There was, for example, Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan and colleagues who dealt with the everyday life of Indian sugar cane farmers. They asked the farmers to do certain tasks, and what they found made no sense at first: the farmers did much worse in these tests before the harvest than afterwards.

Maybe the farmers were hungry before the harvest and couldn't concentrate.

Nearly! In fact, they couldn't concentrate on the tests because they had so much worried about the money: will I find enough helpers for the harvest? At what price can I sell my sugar cane? Will the harvest money be enough to pay my kids to go to school next year? If that's not enough, how do I get more money? Maybe then I can sell my bike? But who could buy it?

They asked themselves such questions all day. They didn't have the energy to devote themselves to the tests. The researchers looked for a comparison to describe what was happening to the poor people. They said that before the harvest, the farmers acted like someone who hasn't slept in a whole night! In the post-harvest tests, the farmers were just as good as people with higher incomes.

This research shows that poverty is a burden on the human mind that can grow so great that it prevents exactly what is often asked of them. Anyone who has to think about how they can repair the broken washing machine cannot think about how they can fundamentally improve their financial situation, for example through further training.

Well, in Germany something like that always takes over the office for the poor and the unemployed. The repair of the washing machine and training is paid for!

That's not true. If the washing machine breaks, everyone has to pay for it themselves. If at the same time a school trip for the child has to be financed, it will be tight for many people and they have to see how they get through the month. 30 percent of Germans have no reserves. And the training ... well. Some believe that its main purpose is to make the unemployed disappear from the statistics. Because people who are “in further training” are not considered unemployed.

So you can of course calculate the statistics nicely.

As a matter of fact. Let's look again to poor countries outside of Europe. In these countries we can learn something about what happens when we just give money to people who have no money.

As the CDU politician Philipp Missfelder said in a sense: That would be nice support for the alcohol and tobacco industry.

And that's exactly what didn't happen. In Kenya, people who have received direct money have used it to improve their homes, buy more livestock and eat more regularly. Everyone who just got the money said they were more satisfied.

Okay, in Kenya ...

Have you ever noticed that there is much more talk about what poor people spend their money on than what rich people spend it on? Everyone thinks they know what is good for the poor. We can learn one thing for Germany from the study in Kenya: poor people know very well what helps them and what they need to be more satisfied.

But they are already getting Hartz IV. What else should we do?

Studies repeatedly show that people who are under pressure do not make good (financial) decisions. However, our current social system is built on pressure. Those who receive Hartz IV have to prove that they are applying, even if these applications are hopeless because the job profile is incorrect, they have to deregister when they leave their city and have to expect that their help will be cut if they do does not adhere to all these requirements, in case of doubt completely. A case has just become known in which a Hartz IV recipient had to keep an income book - about the income he had while begging on the street. So it is not true that nobody in Germany has to stand on the street. Relieving that pressure could help poor people lead better lives.

But we don't just have to stare at politics. We ourselves can begin to reduce this pressure by not making fun of the poor and their culture (anymore), but simply accepting them for what they are: a way of life.

One word is particularly interesting in this context: "Proll".

What is wrong with "Proll"?

“Proll” is short for Prolet. It has a very nasty overtone today - but that wasn't always the case. When people became more aware of their classes, “prolet” was simply the slang term for the workers, the proletarians. It used to be positive, and the fact that it is no longer that today is particularly bad. Because if someone decided today to fight again for people who do not have a “high” education or a “high” income like others, then they would first have to look for a new self-description.

There are probably worse things.

I disagree with you. No self without self-description. Without me there is no answer to the question “Who are you?”. Without this question, the question "Who are we?" And without them, no group can be formed. But we need it to change the situation of the poor. They should be heard more in public. It would be ideal if clubs and groups were formed again to speak to journalists, politicians and other decision-makers in order to combat discrimination against the poor in our society. That worked well for other movements too: the homosexuals, for example, formed their own associations and their own college groups, and at some point, after an admittedly very long struggle, they made progress like marriage for everyone.

Is there really nobody in Germany who advocates this?

Well, indirectly, yes. For example, the Joint Welfare Association does important work. Or the national poverty conference. The Arbeiterkind.de initiative is also trying to focus more on social origins. The ironic thing is that Germany’s oldest party still in existence, the good old Social Democratic Party (SPD), is made up of one Workers' association has emerged. That was almost 170 years ago.

Oha. And today she no longer stands up for the rights of workers?

Yes No Maybe. It is really difficult to say, partly because it was this party that trimmed the welfare state and thus made life difficult for many people in need. But also - and the party is not responsible for this development - because today it is no longer so easy to say exactly who is a worker and who is not.

What exactly could Germany do?

First of all, more Germans have to become aware of the problem at all. That said, more needs to be said about it. If our society really wants to tackle this discrimination, there are several suggestions. One comes from the sociologist Andreas Kemper. He would like the universities to be changed. It could look like this, for example: “The more workers' children successfully complete their studies, the more money there is. Until the universities are socially dimensioned, that is, the social distribution at universities corresponds to the social distribution in society. "

Sounds reasonable.

Sure, even if there are still a few unanswered questions: How should the universities know who is applying to them? So what is his social origin? Does this person always have to indicate the level of education and the income of the parents?

I think there is certainly a solution for this, in the USA there are already similar systems at universities. But all of that is still very, very far away and cannot be changed for you and me at first.

What can I do?

I read something wonderful there. It is in a blog that bears the sympathetic name of appetizer platter: “One promotes working-class children at the university by recognizing their actual achievements, and not 'independent of quality', but independent of personal appearance including dialect / accent / appearance. Hopefully you won't be influenced by polished manners, signet ring, mom in the State Chancellery - OR? "

For those who want to go even deeper: the Initiative Schule mit Courage has just published a thematic booklet on “Classism”. Another version of this text first appeared in it. I thank the initiative that I was able to use the text here! You can order the magazine here.

Developed with Theresa Bäuerlein. Final editing: Vera Fröhlich. Photo selected by Martin Gommel (iStock / PeopleImages).