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
Also appeared in The King’s Review Interviews 2013-18 (2018), 269-275

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 kingsreview.co.uk)

Nicht ohne meine Identität? Die Zukunft der Nationalstaaten

SWR2 Aula, 29. Oktober 2017

Sind die europäischen Nationalstaaten nur noch museale Überbleibsel einer vergangenen Epoche? Die Globalisierung hat schließlich die Tendenz, Nationalstaaten zu überwinden, gelten sie doch mit ihren eigenen Identitäten, Kulturen und Ökonomien als Hemmschuhe für einen einheitlichen Weltmarkt und einen europäischen Superstaat, der alle nationalen Identitäten getilgt hat. Dabei wird übersehen, dass die Nationalstaaten eine Alternative sind zum Traum von neoliberaler Grenzenlosigkeit. Professor Wolfgang Streeck, emeritierter Direktor des Max-Planck-Instituts für Gesellschaftsforschung in Köln, beschreibt diese Alternative.

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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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Imaging Europe: Beaucratic Narratives and Ideological Dreams

The Frisby Memorial Lectures, University of Glasgow, September 19, 2017

The European Union is not Europe. Europe is a two thousand year old civilizational landscape housing a multitude of different but related societies. The European Union is a political construct dating from the 1950s that has in its short lifetime undergone continuous deep transformation. Like earlier political constructs in Europe, it seeks legitimacy by encouraging stories about itself that connect it to Europe as a continent and its supposed historical purpose, cultural identity, and moral unity. European cultural and historical narratives deployed to legitimate the European Union as a political project are the latest in a long line of earlier stories of Europe, each linked to the political and economic objectives and power relations of the day. Like other ideologies, they are dropped and replaced depending on what political opportunities allow or require; they tell us more about Europe’s politics than about Europe. Identification with Europe as a civilization does not require identification with the European Union as a political construction. Depending on the changing condition of the latter it may in fact be incompatible with it.

Video

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)

Crisis and Critique of Social Sciences

Sociologica, 3/2016

Conversation with Riccardo Emilio Chesta

Retracing Wolfgang Streeck’s scientific path, the following interview illustrates some key nodes in critical political economy to finally focus on the general state of contemporary sociology. As a specific stream of a scientific niche, critical political economy addresses indeed relevant questions to both empirical research and sociological theory. Rooted in the so called “critical theory”, Streeck explains how every analysis of the institutional frameworks of contemporary capitalism cannot be detached from a historically grounded and a theoretically informed macro-sociological research. This peculiar articulation allows moreover to investigate the relations between social sciences research on diversity of capitalism and its political salience for democratic capitalism. Moving from personal experiences until general assessments on the state of the discipline, the interview finally aims to shed light on the practice of sociology as a Weberian Beruf – a professional and intellectual craft – and to elucidate its possibilities and limitations in the working and living conditions of contemporary academia.

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Niemand wird freiwillig Arbeiter

Niemand wird freiwillig Arbeiter. In: Greffrath, Mathias (Hrsg.), RE: Das Kapital: Politische Ökonomie im 21. Jahrhundert. München: Verlag Antje Kunstmann, 2017, S. 111-128.

Verlagsinformationen

Zuvor erschienen als „Das Verhältnis von Kapitalismus und Gewalt“, Deutschlandfunk, 20. November 2016

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