By Wolfgang Streeck
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 Buying Time 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 the analysis of Buying Time is the changing relationship between capitalism and democracy—in Europe and elsewhere—and the advancing immunization of the former against the latter.
About Wolfgang Streeck
Wolfgang Streeck (1946) is a German economic sociologist and emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. According to Wikipedia "Streeck's research is focused on analyzing the political economy of capitalism, wherein he proposes to take on a dialectical approach to institutional analysis as opposed to the more rigid varieties of capitalism."
Short interview about Buying Time
Alpar Lošonc on Panoeconomicus wrote:
"Based on his 2012 Adorno Lectures, this important, challenging book from the Director of the Max Planck Institute, locates the interlocking democratic, fiscal and economic crises confronting Europe today as the end point of the long transformation of postwar capitalism. [...] What comes next is unclear. However, Streeck suggests the most likely outcome will be the ongoing 'Hayekisation of European capitalism and its state system,' a world of capitalism without democracy; market justice without social justice. For anyone interested in understanding the bind democracies are in, this is a vital if sobering book which has a troubling, if convincing, conclusion."
Sabine Dörry on FinGeo (Global Network on Financial Geography) wrote:
"Streeck represents thinking from the social-democratic orientation. Although many people lament over this orientation as a part of an irreversible past, Streeck considers the possibility of internal corrections of capitalism. He focuses particularly on the fact that many theorist from the beginning of the 20th century believed that there existed homology between civilization dynamics and growth of the public sector. Such evocation as well as th intention to point to the decrepit public sector that is marketized confirms the social democratic belief of this author. At the same time, this indication should not be understood in a way that Streeck’s analyses reflect optimism regarding possibilities of mentioned corrections. It could be said instead that one might notice a certain pessimism in his thinking, which resulted in criticism by some interpreters. In conclusion, this is a book full of criticism of the present landscape of capitalism, and the main message of the book is certainly disastrous. Namely, it recognizes the intensified contradiction between capitalism and democracy, establishing a critique of many orthodox theories in this domain. [...] Streeck’s book is one of the most thought provoking and comprehensive achievements about the crisis. His arguments are supported by empiric details and age-long research. These virtues require careful reading of the book and correspondence dealing with its diagnoses."
"The conceptualisation of the phenomenon of financialisation has been firmly rooted in geographical research for years. In Buying Time Wolfgang Streeck presents an amazingly coherent foundation for the empirical findings of our time in which the process of finan-cialisation is a core component. His sharp, critical social analysis, primarily of the last 40 years, essentially concerns 'buying time'. Time has been bought repeatedly for decades, with which we are presently subsidising a gigantic restructuring of society, away from the social market economy of the post-war era and towards the Hayekian neoliberalism of the (financial) markets, which is in momentous conflict with our democratic social order. However, in contrast to the traditional Marxist explanatory approaches, it was not the proletarian 'masses', but rather 'capital in the form of its organisations, organisers and owners' (p. 83) that was responsible for renouncing allegiance to post-war capitalism. In its transformed role – as a 'player' rather than 'plaything' (p. 86) – financial capital now functions as the main driving force behind the present profound restructuring of society. [...] If we remain on this path of development – which Streeck assumes for the time being –, we will foreseeably enter the age of the consolidation state, in the formation and formulation of which the 'markets' and 'financial technicians' of international financial diplomacy, i.e., the central banks, will have overpowered the democratic structure of our social coexistence. [...] this book seems to me a credible and plausible call to conduct social and societal research farther away from mathematical model precision and as a counterweight to a 'science of economics undergoing increasing neoclassical sanitisation' (p. 301). [...] Although Streeck remains oddly imprecise about a proposal for action, even in the revised edition of his book, and resorts more to theoreti-cal discussion threads, Buying Time deserves the broadest readership."
Lecture by Wolfgang Streeck on Buying Time
Table of Contents of Buying Time
- Introduction: Crisis Theory, Then and Now
- From Legitimation Crisis to Fiscal Crisis (A new type of crisis / two surprises for crisis theory / the other legitimation crisis and the end of the postwar peace / The long turn: from postwar apitalism to neoliberalism / Buying time)
- Neoliberal Reform: From Tax State to Debt State (Financial crisis: a failure of democracy? / Capitalism and democracy in the neoliberal revolution / Excursus: capitalism and democracy / Starving the beast! / The crisis of the tax state / Debt state and distribution / The politics of the debt state / Debt politics as international financial diplomacy)
- The Politics of the Consolidation State: Neoliberalism in Europe (Integration and liberalization / The European Union as a liberalization machine / Institutional change: from Keynes to Hayek / The consolidation state a a European multilevel regime / Fiscal consolidation as a remodelling of the state / Growth: back to the future / Excursus on regional growth programmes / On the strategic capacity of the European consolidation state / Resistance within the international consolidation state)
- Looking Ahead (What now? / Capitalism or democracy / The euro as a frivolous experiment / Democracy in Euroland? / In praise of devaluation / For a European Bretton Woods / Gaining time)