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Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

“Reminds one of Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” —Jürgen Habermas
The aftershocks of the economic crisis that began in 2008 still rock the world, and have been followed by a crisis in democratic governance. The gravity of the situation is matched by a general paucity of understanding as to precisely what is happening and how it started.

In this new edition of a highly acclaimed book, Wolfgang Streeck revisits his recent arguments in the light of Brexit and the continued crisis of the EU. These developments are only the latest events in the long neoliberal transformation of postwar capitalism that began in the 1970s, a process that turned states away from tax toward debt as a source of revenue, and from that point into the ‘consolidation state’ of today. Central to this analysis is the changing relationship between capitalism and democracy—in Europe and elsewhere—and the advancing immunization of the former against the latter.

Reviews

  • “A superbly provocative work of political economy.”
  • “For anyone interested in understanding the bind democracies are in, this is a vital if sobering book which has a troubling, if convincing, conclusion.”
  • “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.”
  • “Argues that ever since the 1970s, governments in the west have been ‘buying time’ for the existing social and political order … a timely corrective.”
  • “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.”
  • “Logically organized, well argued, scholarly informed, and rich in theoretical references and statistical series covering nearly six decades.”

Blog

  • After Capital's Revolt: an interview with Wolfgang Streeck

    Capital could not just abolish the gains of the postwar period. It was necessary to preserve social peace. The "trick" in the 1970s consisted of using inflation to defuse the emerging conflict between labour and capital over redistribution. The money machine was used to compensate for the loss of income which resulted from the reduction in capital’s contribution to the welfare state… Evidently, that could not last. So from the late 1970s inflation was replaced with public debt, and states borrowed (rather than tax) in order to be able to keep up the level of services. Then, in the 1990s, when states began to worry about the growing weight of debt servicing as part of their budgets, and reduced their spending (and thus social services) we took recourse to private debt. In other words, we made it easier than ever for households to take on debt so that they could preserve their purchasing power, which was being cut back by these budget consolidation measures. And that led us to the 2008 catastrophe.

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  • When I Think of France

    First published in Le Monde. Translated by Loren Balhorn.


    via Wikimedia Commons.

    Seen from Germany, it is possible to envy, admire, and feel sorry for France all at the same time. One can envy their freewheeling public debates on topics like “globalisation” and Americanisation, Europeanisation and Germanisation, capitalism, neoliberalism, “competitiveness,” and “structural reforms." This is because, in France, it is still allowed to publicly ask what words like “cosmopolitanism” really mean; what societies have to accept in exchange for this cosmopolitanism, how much thereof a society really needs or wants and, moreover, what sorts of compromises societies must make in a global market characterised by a universalistically diluted form of constitutional patriotism. In Germany, by contrast, those who neglect to drink from society’s daily dose of the cosmopolitan nectar tend to be excommunicated from public discourse. There is no legitimate public discussion of the French questions — not in literature, not in the social sciences, not in the media, and not in the parliament (here, as an institution driven by allegedly eternal and unchanging “Western values," least of all). Such questions are shunned, pushed into the far-right corner. Maybe it has to be this way in Germany, and maybe German expectations that it should be this way in other countries as well are merely an expression of envy.

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  • [Video:] David Harvey and Evgeny Morozov on Trump, neoliberalism, infrastructure, and "the sharing economy"



    On November 14, 2016 — as part of the Barcelona Initiative for Technological Sovereignty (BITS) — David Harvey sat down with Evgeny Morozov to discuss Trump's election and what it means for neoliberalism and infrastructure; as well as technologies of value extraction in contemporary cities.

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Other books by Wolfgang Streeck Translated by Patrick Camiller and David Fernbach