What does fair mean here?

The minimum wage has stabilized the wage structure from below, especially in the east. This may be welcomed in the result – but it is not a reason for great jubilation.

Flyer from the Verdi union

FThe new figures from the Federal Statistical Office are obviously not suitable for the usual outcry of the socially indignant: The inequality of wages has decreased, the gap between the upper and lower tenths of employees is flatter than before. According to the usual standards of the welfare state debate, the country has become fairer. And the unions emphasize with a slightly triumphant undertone why: The general minimum wage introduced in 2015 had worked as desired – so the government must quickly increase it to 12 euros.

But what if one does not believe that equality of results through state-organized redistribution is the central goal? What if you prefer to measure social success and social cohesion by the ability to take responsibility and organize yourself? Then loud doubts arise – which deserve more attention in times of a lack of economic dynamism.

In terms of performance, is it actually a step forward when the top tenth of employees – the elite of the workforce, so to speak – in the East only achieves 2.8 times the bottom ten percent? Of course, one can argue about whether the best performers can always be found automatically at the upper end of the pay scale. But instead leveling the wage differences between the low-skilled and the highly skilled is not guaranteed to be a recipe for success. Everyone should be able to work their way up through their own effort, or does that count as a lack of solidarity?

Of course, on the other hand, the minimum wage has stabilized the wage structure from below, especially in the east. This may be welcomed as a result, but it is not a reason for great cheers – especially not for trade unions that want to encourage the self-organization of employees in order to enforce collective agreements. Seen in this way, the new statistics are actually proof of their failure. Instead of worrying all the more about their own contribution to social cohesion, they are calling for even more state. It will be interesting to see who will cheer about the shrinking low-wage sector, if one day hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers no longer have a job.