One Question: Marx at 200

Interview by Cihan Aksan with John Bailes and leading thinkers,State of Nature, May 7, 2018

Wolfgang Streeck: As a student of sociology in Frankfurt at the end of the 1960s, I encountered Marx early. Unfortunately, however, nobody prevented me from getting in at the wrong end: the first chapters of Capital. This was too abstract for a twenty year-old from the provinces, with a pent-up need for concrete real-world experience.

It was only much later that I returned to Marx, when I was teaching at an American university, UW-Madison. There I became aware of the breathtaking complexity of Marx’s Hegel-trained conceptual apparatus, which surpasses everything that was produced at the time and later in social science, and which is uniquely suited to observe and represent conflicts, dilemmas, or ‘contradictions’ in social life. On this background I realized why the attempt had failed and had to fail to develop a theory (and practice) of the social-democratic governance of ‘modern’ societies with the help of a functionalist sociology and empiricist political science. (…)

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Other answers by: Ursula Huws, Sven-Eric Liedman, Terrell Carver, Jayati Ghosh, Frigga Haug, Lucia Pradella, Neil Faulkner, Lars T Lih, Esther Leslie, Guilherme Leite Gonçalves, Michael Roberts.

Macron risque d’être le troisième Président consécutif à ne faire qu’un mandat

Interview by Jorge Gomes-Ferreira, L’arène nue, April 24, 2018.

Vous observez beaucoup l’Europe. Après la longue crise politique qui a eu lieu dans votre pays et a amené à la reconduction de la « Grande coalition », après les élections italiennes de mars dernier, où en sommes nous selon vous ?

Nous nous trouvons devant une impasse, devant un équilibre, non pas des forces, mais des faiblesses. Suite aux élections, l’Allemagne n’est plus en mesure de répondre aux attentes de ses partenaires en termes de « réformes », c’est-à-dire en termes de concessions matérielles : l’AfD et le FDP feront tout au Bundestag pour dénoncer ouvertement et avec fracas toute initiative qui irait au-delà du traité de Maastricht ou de ce que permet la Constitution allemande. En Italie, depuis la fin de Renzi, il n’est plus envisageable que le pays poursuive les réformes néo-libérales exigées d’elle jusqu’à maintenant. Cela impliquerait que l’Italie puisse attendre de l’Allemagne un soutien économique en retour, qui ne soit pas que symbolique. (Continuez sur

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

The EU Crisis and Europe’s Divided Memories

Interview by Carlo Spagnolo with Geoff Eley, Leonardo Paggi, and Wolfgang Streeck, published in “Le memorie divise dell’Europa dal 1945”, monographic issue of the Journal „Ricerche Storiche“, n. 2/2017, pp. 27-44.

Right from the beginning, European integration encountered resistance and has experienced periods of stasis and regression but today’s crisis is of a new, more extreme kind. Since the rejection of the constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands in 2005 we have seen the growth of local “populist” movements opposed to immigration and the loss of control over the employment market, a resurgence of nationalism in many countries and the referendum vote in favour of Brexit on 23 June (2016). Is this a crisis of rejection connected to the almost unnatural and extraordinarily rapid expansion of the size and remit of the EU after the 1991-92 Maastricht Treaty? Are we now paying the price for the EU’s over-ambition or for the „democratic deficit“ on which it was built?

(W. S.) It is almost conventional wisdom today to answer both your questions in the affirmative: over-ambition and democratic deficit at the same time. Yes, integration has crossed the threshold beyond which it makes itself felt in everyday life, especially as member countries have become so much more heterogeneous. “Nationalism”, as you call it, has always been there, except in Germany and, perhaps, Italy – two countries whose citizens were for a long time willing to exchange their national identity for a European one. Elsewhere it was contained within national borders, which were still relevant. This has changed with the simultaneous widening and deepening of the Union. Also, as to nationalism, don’t forget that the Internal Market and monetary union and in particular the “rescue operations” for governments and banks, pitch countries against each other, making then compete for economic performance and fight over both austerity and “solidarity”. (Continue)

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Producir ciencia social crítica en el interregno

Entrevista, Revista de Actualidad Política, Social y Cultural, 17 de abril del 2017

Profesor Streeck, muchas gracias por la posibilidad de conversar con usted. Me interesa formularle algunas preguntas sobre los procesos que la sociedad global está viviendo hoy en día.

Muy bien. Intentaré dar mis mejores respuestas. Sin embargo, debo comenzar con una nota de precaución: vivimos en un tiempo en que las cosas se han vuelto tremendamente impredecibles, por razones que podemos ir discutiendo; y si bien sabemos por qué esto está ocurriendo, de todas maneras el resultado es que podemos esperar nuevas sorpresas, y por definición uno no conoce de antemano las sorpresas. (Continue)