Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

"Reminds one of Karl Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte." – Jurgen Habermas
The financial and economic crisis that began in 2008 still has the world on tenterhooks. The gravity of the situation is matched by a general paucity of understanding about what is happening and how it started. 

In this book, based on his 2012 Adorno Lectures given in Frankfurt, Wolfgang Streeck places the crisis in the context of the long neoliberal transformation of postwar capitalism that began in the 1970s. He analyses the subsequent tensions and conflicts involving states, governments, voters and capitalist interests, as expressed in inflation, public debt, and rising private indebtedness. Streeck traces the transformation of the tax state into a debt state, and from there into the consolidation state of today. At the centre of the analysis is the changing relationship between capitalism and democracy, in Europe and elsewhere, and the advancing immunization of the former against the latter.


  • “In its best parts—when political passion connects with critical exposition of the facts and incisive argument—Streeck’s sweeping and empirically founded inquiry reminds one of Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.”
  • “Streeck's new book, Buying Time, argues that ever since the 1970s, governments in the west have been 'buying time' for the existing social and political order … a timely corrective.”
  • “Is electoral democracy compatible with the type of economic policies the EU—backed at a distance by Washington and Wall Street – wants to impose? This is the question posed by the Cologne-based sociologist Wolfgang Streeck in Buying Time, a book that is provoking debate in Germany. Streeck argues that since Western economic growth rates began falling in the 1970s, it has been increasingly hard for politicians to square the requirements of profitability and electoral success; attempts to do so (‘buying time’) have resulted in public spending deficits and private debt. The crisis has brought the conflict of interests between the financial markets and the popular will to a head: investors drive up bond yields at the ‘risk’ of an election. The outcome in Europe will be either one or the other, capitalist or democratic, Streeck argues; given the balance of forces, the former appears most likely to prevail. Citizens will have nothing at their disposal but words—and cobblestones.””
  • “Streeck has here provided an excellent and challenging account of the current state of relations between capitalism and democracy. His concept of a state whose democratic responsibilities to voters are required systematically to be shared with and often trumped by those to creditors takes us a major step forward.””
  • “A superbly provocative work of political economy.”
  • “Logically organized, well argued, scholarly informed, and rich in theoretical references and statistical series covering nearly six decades.”


  • Collapsing Constructions: Reflections on British Exit

    This essay was first published in Die Zeit on 30 June. Translated by David Fernbach.

    We shall have to wait and see whether German "Europeans" will learn anything from the outcome of the British referendum. There is not much hope of this. In their first reactions, they claimed that the land of Shakespeare and Adam Smith, Newton and Hobbes, Händel and Marx had never really belonged to Europe  unlike ourselves of course. It is obvious here to anyone not caught up in the German fog that similar votes would have had similar results in a whole series of countries: Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary and Italy, not to mention France. The European Union as we know it, the institutional framework of "European integration" as Germans imagined it, is experiencing its Götterdämmerung. And anyone who does not believe this risks being buried by its collapsing constructions.

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  • "Stop shedding tears for the bureaucratic European Union monster"—Antonis Vradis on Greece and a racist Brexit

    In light of the result of the EU referendum, we publish Antonis Vradis’ piece comparing the Greek and British EU referenda. Vradis makes the case for the necessity of a left resurgence after the reactionary far right Brexit campaign. Vradis is a geographer at Durham University, looking at Europe's urban transformations under austerity, and also at how the management of the migrant crisis is transforming the continent - as part of the Transcapes collective. He blogs at The Slow

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  • Costas Lapavitsas: The Left Needs to Develop an Alternative Plan for Europe

    On Friday, Costas Lapavitsas spoke with Gregory Wilpert of The Real News about Brexit, touching on the vote and the implications of the result within Britain and elsewhere in the EU, including Greece. 

    LAPAVITSAS: Brexit puts the future of the EU on the table. No question at all about it. This is a historic moment. It puts the question of the EU on the table. And we must start with the understanding that the EU has failed. And it has failed for a variety of reasons, democracy being one of them, economic policies being another, and of course the madness of the common currency, which doesn't apply to Britain, thankfully, but it applies elsewhere. The EU has failed.

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Other books by Wolfgang Streeck