Review: Bruno Amable, „Structural Crisis and Institutional Change in Modern Capitalism: French Capitalism in Transition“

Review of Bruno Amable (2017), Structural Crisis and Institutional Change in Modern Capitalism: French Capitalism in Transition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Appeared in ILR Review 71 (2), 2018, 550-552.

This book is historical-institutionalist political economy at its best. Obviously it is on industrial relations, but it is also, as it should be, on capitalism and the state, on politics and markets, and most important, on their dynamic over time. One thing that we learn (unless we have learned it previously) is that industrial relations cannot be understood outside of its capitalist-political context, and it must be conceived as a story, a movie, not a still, embedded in the long history of modern capitalist society. That history, quite appropriately, can be recounted as one of “modernization,” but not in the 1950s and 1960s American sense in which it stands for quiet, steady, universal, and basically self-driven development toward ever-higher levels of prosperity, democracy, and general happiness. Rather, what Bruno Amable identifies as modernization is a political project of a state under capitalism trying to design a regime that overcomes the dysfunctions of liberalism while avoiding the lure of socialism or communism—a perennial political search for a “Third Way” and for a political coalition capable of sustaining it that goes back to the beginning of capitalist industrialization in the 19th century. […]


What about capitalism? Jürgen Habermas’s project of a European democracy

Review of Jürgen Habermas, The Lure of Technocracy, Polity: Cambridge, 2015

European Political Science, Vol. 16 (2017), No. 2, 246-253. Manuscript finished January 18, 2016.

The book to be reviewed here – The Lure of Technocracy – is Jürgen Habermas’ latest statement on Europe, its crisis, its politics and its prospects. It is the English translation – a remarkably good one – of Im Sog der Technokratie (Habermas 2013). The German original came out as Volume XII of Kleine politische Schriften, a series that dates back to 1980 and which, according to Habermas (2013, 10), it is to conclude. The twelve volumes, all of them collections of occasional papers, interviews and public lectures produced alongside Habermas’ main works, have long become an object of wide admiration, in Germany and beyond, for their unique combination of political activism, profound scholarship and, not least, brilliant essayistic prose, and they can already now claim a prominent place in the political and cultural history of postwar Germany. The Lure of Technocracy consists of ten pieces from the last three or four years, seven of them more or less directly concerned with European integration and its crisis since 2008. (…)

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Are we heading for another economic crash?

Interview by Cihan Aksan with John Bailes and leading thinkers, State of Nature, January 15, 2018

Wolfgang Streeck: I’m not a prophet. But there is no capitalism without the occasional crash, so if you will we are always heading for one. Inflation in the 1970s was ended by a return to ‘sound money’ in 1980, which begot deindustrialization and high unemployment, which together with tax cuts for the rich begot high public debt. When public debt became too high, fiscal consolidation in the 1990s had to be compensated, for macro-economic as well as political reasons, by capital market deregulation and private household debt, which begot the crash of 2008.

Now, almost a decade later, public debt is higher than ever, so is private debt; the global money volume has been steadily increasing for decades now; and the central banks are producing money as though there was no tomorrow, by buying up all sorts of debt with cash made ‘out of thin air’, which is called Quantitative Easing. While everybody knows that this cannot go on forever, nobody knows how to end it – same with public and private debt, same with the money supply. Something is going to happen, presumably soon, and it is not going to be pleasant. (Read other answers)

Other answers by: Cédric Durand, Susan Newman, David M. Kotz, Minqi Li, Mary Mellor, Andrew Ross, Tim di Muzio, Dario Azzellini, Ying Chen, Richard Murphy, Michael Roberts, Lena Rethel and Heikki Patomäki.

The Future of Capitalism

Podcast about the trajectory of capitalism and democracy, Center for Urban Research and Austerity, January 15, 2018

A talk with Wolfgang Streeck, Professor emeritus of sociology. From 1995 to 2014 he was Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany. His latest book is How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System (Verso, 2016).

Drawing widely on classics from Schumpeter, Polanyi and Marx, Streeck offers an account of the lineage of democracy, capitalism and the state since the post-war period, identifying the deeply de-democratising and self-destructive trajectory in contemporary capitalist development. Against liberal received wisdom, Streeck argues that democracy and capitalism are anything but natural partners or easy bedfellows, but have in fact been in constant historical tension. The post-war social democratic settlement represents an unusual “fix” to this tension that was relatively favourable to the popular classes, or “wage dependent”, parts of the population. However, this fix unravelled in the 70’s as the capitalist, or “profit-dependent”, class rediscovered its agency and, with neo-liberal globalisation and financialisation, began to shape a world in its interests.

Streeck argues that these processes are putting in danger not only the existence of democratic politics, which is increasingly circumscribed by the need for states to appease financial markets, but also the future of capitalism itself. Streeck’s vision for what is to come is gloomy. Capitalism continues to erode the social foundations necessary for its own sustenance, as well as the resources needed to collectively construct an alternative order. Institutional and policy fixes to capitalist contradictions are running out. We can expect the result to be the development of an increasingly uncertain and under-institutionalised social order, reminiscent of a Hobbesian state of nature, where individual agency and creativity becomes fundamental to meet basic needs and achieve even minimal goals. Politics offers hope of rupture, but is itself increasingly constrained and defiled by capitalist development and rationality. (Podcast on soundcloud or itunes)

Farewell, neoliberalism

Interview, Kings Review, December 14, 2017

KR: In your recent NLR piece you characterise neoliberalism as “Free-trade agreements […] global governance [..] enabling commodification, and […] the competition state of a new era of capitalist rationalisation“. Do you see any possibility for capitalism to exist without being neoliberal? Can there be good capitalism?

Wolfgang Streeck: Capitalism wasn’t always neoliberal: there was merchant capitalism, industrial capitalism, old-liberal capitalism, Hilferdingian finance capitalism, state-administered New Deal capitalism, you name them. All of them embodied complex historical compromises between classes, nations, social life and the profit-making imperative… Were they “good”? For some they always were, and there were times, in the heydays of the social-democratic class compromise, when wage-earners, too, could perceive capitalism as fair. It didn’t last. We now face rising insecurity, declining growth rates, growing inequality, exploding indebtedness everywhere – a high-risk world run by a tiny oligarchy, or kleptocracy, who are working hard to de-couple their fate from that of the rest of the societies that they have asset-stripped. (Continue on

You need a gun

Review of two books by Perry Anderson

London Review of Books, Vol. 39, No. 24, December 2017, pp. 25-26

What is the relationship between coercion and consent? Under what circumstances does power turn into authority, brute force into legitimate leadership? Can coercion work without consent? Can consent be secured without coercion? Does political power depend on voluntary agreement and values shared in common, or does it grow out of the barrel of a gun? When ideas rule, how is that rule maintained? Can associations of equals – built on common interests, ideas and identities – endure, or must they degenerate into empires kept together by force? Such questions go to the foundations of political theory and practice. There is no better way to explore them than by tracing the complex career of the concept of hegemony, from the Greeks to today’s ‘international relations’. That is the task undertaken by Perry Anderson in The H-Word and The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci. (Continue on – Paywall)

Merkel – Ein Rückblick

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16. November 2017, Seite 11

Die Ära Merkel geht zu Ende, und das ist auch gut so. Allmählich erwachen die deutsche Politik und ihre Öffentlichkeit aus ihrer postdemokratischen Narkose. Merkels basale Herrschaftstechnik bestand bekanntlich darin, statt Wähler für eigene Ziele zu mobilisieren, den Wählern anderer Parteien die Gründe zu nehmen, zur Wahl zu gehen – durch so unauffällig wie möglich gehaltene Bekenntnisse zum eigenen Programm bei angedeutetem Verständnis für die Programme der Konkurrenz. „Man kann das im Soziologendeutsch asymmetrische Demobilisierung nennen“, so der arme Schulz laut „Spiegel“ im Juni in einer Strategiesitzung: „Ich nenne es Aushöhlung der Demokratie… Die sinkende Wahlbeteiligung vorsätzlich in Kauf zu nehmen ist ein Anschlag auf die Demokratie.“ (…)

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