Le Monde Diplomatique, Mai 2019, 1, 20-21.
Qu’est-ce que l’Union européenne ? Le concept le plus proche qui vient à l’esprit est celui d’empire libéral ou, mieux, néolibéral : un bloc hiérarchiquement structuré et composé d’États nominalement souverains dont la stabilité se maintient grâce à une distribution du pouvoir d’un centre vers une périphérie.
Au centre se trouve une Allemagne qui essaie avec plus ou moins de succès de se dissimuler à l’intérieur du noyau dur de l’Europe (Kerneuropa) qu’elle forme avec la France. Elle ne veut pas être considérée comme ce que les Britanniques appelaient une « unificatrice du continent », même si, en réalité, c’est bien le cas. Le fait qu’elle se cache derrière la France constitue pour cette dernière une source de pouvoir. (…)
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The EU is a doomed empire
Published in Le Monde Diplomatique – English Edition, May 01, 2019.
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Interview by Fraser Myers, Spiked, March 29, 2019.
How has the role and focus of the EU evolved over the past few decades?
Originally, the EU was an organisation for joint economic planning among six adjacent countries. The planning was sectorally specific, limited to coalmining and the steel industry, later also nuclear power, in the context of the state-managed capitalism of the postwar era. Then it grew into a free-trade zone, increasingly devoted to spreading neoliberal internationalism, in particular the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour, under the rubric of the Internal Market.
As the number and heterogeneity of member states continuously increased, ‘positive integration’ became ever-more difficult. Instead, there was ‘negative’ integration: the removal of substantive regulations that impeded free trade within the bloc. After the end of Communism in 1989, the EU became a geostrategic project, closely intertwined with the US’s geostrategy in relation to Russia. From the original six countries cooperating in the management of a few key sectors of their economies, the EU became a neoliberal empire of 28 highly heterogeneous states. The idea was and is to govern those states centrally by obliging them to refrain from state intervention in their economies.(…)
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L’Unione Europea è un impero
Pubblicato su Voci Dall’Estero, 01 aprile, 2019.
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Review of Quinn Slobodian (2018), Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Appeared in Development and Change 50 (3), 2019, 1-12.
Neoliberalism, we learn from this truly eye-opening book, is not new at all; it is, in fact, almost a century old. Why ‘neo’, then? Because it was conceived and intended to promote the return of the stateless liberal Weltwirtschaft (the globally integrated world economy of the gold standard) which even Karl Polanyi sometimes celebrated with a note of nostalgia. Conceived it was by an identifiable, and now precisely identified, group of people who carried it and the project it stood for to its, however preliminary, victory in our time. The end of liberalism and the rise of neoliberalism began in 1918 with the fall of the empires of free trade and their replacement with a host of sovereign and potentially democratic nation states, carriers of a dangerous virus called ‘economic nationalism’. After 1945 followed decolonization and the introduction of majority voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations — anti-liberal political architectures that, together with the Keynesian gospel of national self-sufficiency, threatened not just economic progress but also, this was the claim, the open society, human freedom and dignity. Therefore, neo. (…)
El País, 15 de marzo, 2019.
La Unión Económica y Monetaria (UEM) fue un error histórico, no para Alemania –que originalmente estaba en contra pero se convirtió en su principal beneficiario— sino para los países mediterráneos, Francia incluida, que por distintas razones estaban impacientes por “europeizar” la moneda alemana. Esos países sufren, pero no por su elevada deuda, como sostiene Alemania, sino porque las distintas culturas económicas nacionales requieren distintos regímenes monetarios para permitir que sean internacionalmente competitivas sus distintas estructuras sociales e institucionales. Ya en 1992, Ralf Dahrendorf, el entonces director de la London School of Economics, señaló que algunos países, como Francia, han impulsado el crecimiento económico históricamente con deuda pública, mientras que otros, como Italia, dependían de la alta inflación para alimentar la demanda doméstica. Un país altamente dependiente de las exportaciones como Alemania requiere estabilidad monetaria. Impuesto en Europa en su conjunto, como sucedió durante los neoliberales años noventa, el régimen monetario a la alemana asegura mercados cautivos para las exportaciones alemanas e imposibilita las ocasionales devaluaciones a otros países para defender su competitividad internacional. (…)
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Review of Yanis Varoufakis (2017), Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment, London: The Bodley Head.
Appeared in Inference: International Review of Science 4 (3), March 2019.
What a strange book—strange but indispensable nevertheless. From January to July 2015, Yanis Varoufakis served as the Greek government’s finance minister. Adults in the Room is an account of his battle with what he calls Europe’s deep establishment. It is often self-indulgent, sometimes sentimental. He also takes pains to show he is human. He describes his happy marriage. He takes dinner with friends. He remembers his student days, and argues with his daughters. He encounters German secret service agents who unaccountably urge him to continue fighting the good fight. His mistakes he assigns to a nature that is too trusting given the intrigues both abroad and at the court of Alexis Tsipras, his prime minister and the leader of Syriza.
And yet, the book is indispensable. For whom? For the journalists who helped the masters of Europe get rid of Varoufakis; for the armies of European functionaries, les ronds-de-cuir; and, one might hope, for teachers and students of the policy sciences. Varoufakis’s book provides an honest account of how our world is governed. It will be plausible to anyone who has tried to make sense of political life without falling victim to the charm of political power. (…)
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Adam Smith Lecture in Jurisprudence, University of Glasgow, 30 May 2018. Published online on February 6, 2019, in: Jurisprudence: An International Journal of Legal and Political Thought, 10 (1), 1-14.
I start, not with Smith – he will show up near the end – but with a close friend of his, the historian Edward Gibbon. In the fourth volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, Gibbon’s narrative reaches the point when in the late fifth century the Western Roman Empire forever expired. Before he finally turns his attention to the history of Byzantium, Gibbon pauses to look back at more than four centuries of Roman imperial statehood to consider what the ‘awful revolution’ he has recounted might mean for ‘the instruction of the present age’. (…)
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Review of Joshua B. Freeman (2018), Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Appeared in London Review of Books 41 (3), 2019, 29-31.
It was in the early 1960s, I think, that our class at a small-town Gymnasium made a trip to south-western Germany, accompanied by several teachers. We visited Heidelberg and Schwetzingen and similar places without really seeing them; 17-year-old boys have other things on their minds. But we also went to Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, for a tour of the Opel car factory. I had never imagined that a place like this could exist: the deafening noise, the dirt, the heat, and in the middle of it all, people stoically performing minute predefined operations on the cars-in-the-making that were slowly but relentlessly moving past their work stations. The high point of the visit was the foundry in the basement – which, as I now learn from Joshua Freeman’s marvellous book, was the standard place for foundries in car factories of that era. Here, where the heat seemed unbearable and there was almost no light, half-naked men carried the molten metal, red-hot, from the furnace to the casting stations in small buckets filled to a back-breaking weight. Trained in the classics rather than the real world, I felt I had entered the workshop of Hephaestus. Looking back, I think it was on that day I decided to study sociology, which I then believed could help me and others to improve the lives of those slaving away in the basements of factories everywhere. (…)
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Norbert Lechner Lecture, Diego Portales University, Chile, November 14, 2018.
In a globally integrated capitalist economy borders between states are supposed to become economically irrelevant. Globalization is the ultimate form of liberalization; it shields free markets, instituted on a global scale, from national state intervention, in particular of a redistributive kind. Rather than markets located in states, under globalization states become located in markets. This has momentous consequences for the nature of statehood, both domestically and internationally. States located in markets lose the capacity to protect their economies and societies from market competition; in fact their economic role, if one is left for them at all, is to deregulate their national economies in order to make them more competitive, internally first and as a consequence externally as well. (…)
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Interview with the Greek online journal, Marginalia , October, 2018.
In your most recent book (How will capitalism end?, 2016) you mention that the history of capitalism has been, since the 19th century at least, a history of its crises. However, the various predictions of its end have been proven wrong until now. Today, alongside a widespread consensus on the seriousness of the ongoing crisis, there is a total disagreement on how and if it is going to have an end at all. How can one explain this “Babel”? Does it make sense anymore, after so many false predictions, to ask economists and sociologists to predict the future?
What older theories of capitalist decline, or capitalist end, did not know, and could not know, is how many different forms capitalism as a social and economic system can assume – from liberal to state-administered to neoliberal, or from merchant to industrial to financial, etc. etc. Often enough, these transformations happened in the last minute, forced by crises, powerful countermovements, or, not least, the rise of the state and global warfare in the twentieth century. Still, the basic problem of modern capitalism remains: it is a socio-economic regime that depends on endless growth – endless accumulation of capital – in a finite world. All sorts of tricks have been invented to suspend that problem provisionally and for the time being; but there is no reason to believe that this will always be successful. In any case, giving up on thinking only because the question is difficult is not a good idea. (…)
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