Hermann Kinkelin

Hermann Kinkelin (1832-1913) is considered to have been one of the most influential national social insurance experts before the First World War – in the early days of the Swiss welfare state.

Kinkelin originated from a merchant family and studied mathematics in Zurich, Lausanne and Munich. After completing his studies, he first worked as a teacher at a vocational school in Basel from 1860 onwards and then twice presided over this school as rector (1866-1868 and 1875-1903). In 1865, he was appointed associate professor by the University of Basel, where he worked alongside his teaching position until 1895. Kinkelin was not much of a theorist, instead he was interested in the practical application of mathematics, and particularly actuarial mathematics.

In addition to his academic career, Kinkelin pursued a career in politics as a member of the socially progressive wing of the liberals and the Free Democratic Party. He became a long-standing member of the Basel City Education Committee in 1877 and was committed to improving primary school education. He was elected to the city council of Basel in 1867, where he served until 1886. He then served as national councillor from 1890 to 1899.

Kinkelin also concerned himself with issues regarding private and social insurance. He was on the board of the life insurance company Patria from 1877 to 1913. His interest in social insurance closely tied in with his commitment to the Swiss Statistical Society which he co-founded in 1864 and headed between 1877 and 1886. He was also active in the Society of Economics and Statistics in Basel. He was in charge of the Basel census in 1870 and 1880. On behalf of the Swiss Statistical Society, Kinkelin conducted two major surveys in 1868 and 1887 on the private welfare funds in Switzerland and their insurance models, especially in the area of health, old age and disability. Kinkelin’s findings showed various technical weaknesses among private funds; he thus argued the case for stronger state regulation in the insurance sector (see the calculation debates around 1900).

In 1890, the constitutional article giving the Confederation the power to pass legislation in health and accident insurance was accepted in a popular vote. The Federal Council invited Kinkelin as a renowned insurance expert to join national councillor Ludwig Forrer and the two civil servants Christian Moser and Johann Jakob Kummer in advancing the conceptual preparations for the planned Health and Accident Insurance Act (KUVG). In this role, Kinkelin took part in a study trip to Germany and Austria in 1891 – accompanied by Moser – where he extensively examined the latest welfare state laws. In 1893, he was part of an advisory expert commission that prepared a draft KUVG for Parliament. Alongside Moser, Kummer and Forrer, Kinkelin was one of the most influential figures in this commission. In 1900, he campaigned for the KUVG proposal; however, a surprisingly clear majority of the electorate rejected the bill. He then increasingly withdrew from his professional obligations. In 1912, Kinkelin passed away in Basel, shortly after the second KUVG bill had been accepted.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Lengwiler, Martin (2006), Risikopolitik im Sozialstaat. Die schweizerische Unfallversicherung 1870-1970, Köln. Simon, Christian, Naturwissenschaften in Basel im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Die Philosopisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät der Universität, Beitrag zur Online-Publikation « 550 Jahre Universität Basel », Basel 2010; http://www.unigeschichte.unibas.ch/cms/upload/FaecherUndFakultaeten/Downloads/CSimon_NaturwissenschaftenBasel.pdf