Column declaration of love: the expropriation

A hard word with "-ung" is displacing waxy feel-good terms from center-left debates. Even the legacy generation likes it.

The property question still drives leftists Photo: dpa

The SPD demanded it in its basic program until 1959. Robert Habeck – the man adored by the left-liberal generation of heirs with condominiums – also wants it, at least as a last resort. And by now everyone has noticed that the word "expropriation" is even in the Basic Law: Article 14, Paragraph 3, Sentence 1. The cool German suffix "-ung" marks either an order (Achtung), a process (Einigung), something bureaucratic (Satzung) or just the signal that it’s time to get down to business. Left-wing veterans of the seventies will remember "Vergesellschaftung" or "Sozialisierung.

For the past 30 years, the center-left has been dominated by waxy feel-good words like justice, modernity and opportunity, which you never knew if they were dictated by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Now a hard word with "-ung" returns, an announcement. Leftists – at least those who determine public and published opinion – are accused of being too concerned with identity, gender stars, paternity leave and other "kerfuffle" (Gerhard Schroder). The debate on expropriation, which is being pushed by grassroots initiatives, shows that the property issue is still a concern for the left.

The housing market does not function because there is no longer a balance between supply and demand. Large housing companies are raking in monopoly profits (another nice harsh word). When the market doesn’t work, the state can intervene, even Ludwig Erhard’s followers know that. Or, as Marx connoisseurs would say: The exchange value of housing as a commodity is now absurdly higher than its use value. What one pays in rent in the meantime no longer has anything to do with the use value.

There was already once in Germany a mass movement for expropriation. In 1926, almost 15 million out of 40 million eligible Germans voted in a referendum for the expropriation of princely estates. Quite remarkable, because just eight years earlier Germans had allowed themselves to be ruled by the princes pretty much without complaint. There are certainly parallels: Large owners of land and housing are, after all, the princes of these days.

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