Scenario for a Wonderful Tomorrow

Review of Martin Sandbu, Europe’s Orphan: The Future of the Euro and the Politics of Debt, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2015

Appeared in London Review of Books, Vol. 38, No. 7, March 2016, pp. 7-10

Europe is falling apart, destroyed by its most devoted fans, the Germans. In the summer of 2015, having humiliated the Greeks by forcing another reform diktat down their throats, Angela Merkel started a new game, aimed at diverting attention from the economic and political disaster monetary union had become. Abrupt changes of policy are nothing new to Merkel, who is best described as a postmodern politician with a premodern, Machiavellian contempt for both causes and people. Having made her party adopt a radically neoliberal, deregulationist anti-labour platform in 2003, she barely escaped defeat two years later at the hands of Gerhard Schroeder. When she became chancellor, she used her office and the Grand Coalition with the post-Schroeder Social Democratic Party (SPD) to purge her own party of neoliberalism and neoliberals, and social-democratise it beyond recognition. In 2011, after the nuclear accident at Fukushima, which received extensive media coverage in Germany, it took Merkel, then known as the Atomkanzlerin, no more than a few days to order the immediate closure of eight nuclear power plants and to initiate legislation to end all nuclear power generation by 2022 at the latest. This was only a few months after she had, with much political arm-twisting, got the Bundestag to repeal the nuclear phase-out passed by the Red-Green coalition in 2001, and to extend the operating licences of German nuclear plants by an average of ten years. (…) Continue

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

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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Multimorbidität

Besprechung von: Tomáš Sedláček / Oliver Tanzer: Lilith und die Dämonen des Kapitals Die Ökonomie auf Freuds Couch. Hanser Verlag, München 2015.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13. Oktober 2015, S. 23

Manchmal kann einem sogar der Kapitalismus leidtun. Andererseits braucht, wer solche Feinde hat, nun wirklich keine Freunde. Tomáš Sedláček ist spezialisiert auf die Verfertigung von Abhandlungen über das Abgründige im kapitalistischen Wirtschaftsleben, in denen er seine Leser unter anderem mit einem end- und bodenlosen klassisch-literarischen Zitatenschatz traktiert. Zugleich ist er (nebenher?) „Chief Macroeconomic Strategist“ einer tschechischen Bank und war nach eigenem Bekunden „Wirtschaftsberater“ von Präsidenten und Ministern in der Tschechischen Republik nach der Wende zum – Kapitalismus! Ein Mensch in seinem Widerspruch? (Weiterlesen auf süddeutsche.de)

Piketty, the Global Tax on Capital, and the Fiscal Crisis of the State

To appear in Labor History, 2015

There has hardly been a book recently whose strengths and weaknesses have been as extensively discussed as Thomas Piketty’s „Capital in the Twenty-First Century“ (2014).[1] I have little to add to the Marxist critique that Piketty’s concept of capital is somehow underdeveloped, or to Piketty’s quite reasonable response to it. Nor will I repeat that Piketty may be underestimating the role of trade unions and collective bargaining in the era of the Great Compression between the First World War and the mid-1970s, when unions and the institutions that sustained them began to be rolled back. Instead I begin by reminding readers of some of the book’s unquestionable merits: the fact that it focusses on the commonalities rather than the differences between the countries of advanced capitalism; its emphasis on the basically unearned nature of great wealth; the attention it rightly pays to the impact of the two world wars (with, among other things, the great upswing in trade union organization and trade union rights in the two „postwar settlements“); its rejection of the „convergence thesis“, according to which capitalism will on its own even out social and economic inequality through, among other things, competition (in fact, Piketty impressively proves the presence in capitalism of what Robert K. Merton has once called the „Matthew effect;“[2] Merton 1968); and the observation that large wealth can expect to draw a better rate of return than small savings, due to its access to more sophisticated financial advice. Weiterlesen

Governance heißt das Zauberwort, das alle Konfusion beenden soll

Besprechung von Helmut Willke, Demokratie in Zeiten der Konfusion, Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2014

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 31. März 2015

An Demokratiebegriffen herrscht kein Mangel, aber mit gutem Willen kann man sie in zwei Gruppen unterteilen: Demokratie als Problemlösung und Demokratie als Umverteilung. Einmal geht es um Effizienz und Kompetenz und um Probleme der Gesellschaft als ganzer, und Demokratie ist nötig, weil sie „intelligenter“ ist (Charles Lindblom) und „pathologisches Lernen“ in den Entscheidungszentren verhindert (Karl Deutsch): eine gute Demokratie ist die beste Technokratie. Ein andermal geht es um Gerechtigkeit – oder das, was der Demos dafür hält: den Schutz der kleinen Leute vor den großen. Demokratie zieht Probleme vor, die sonst nur weit hinten kämen; erschwert die Umwandlung öffentlicher in private Gewalt; ist nicht immer intelligent, dafür aber ein Dauerrisiko für die Chefetagen; plebejisch – oder heute: „populistisch“ – statt akademisch; explosiv; unsauber wie das Leben und eine ständige Mahnung für Befehlshaber aller Art, ihre Interessen nicht für die aller anderen zu halten. Weiterlesen

Sparen um jeden Preis

Besprechung der deutschen Übersetzung des Buchs von Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Wie Europa sich kaputtspart: Die gescheiterte Idee der Austeritätspolitik. Berlin: Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf.).

Ungekürzte Fassung. Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24. Februar 2015

Was ist wichtiger in der Politik, Ideen oder Interessen? Mark Blyth, Politikwissenschaftler an der Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, hat schon früh auf den Primat von Ideen gesetzt. Politik, so Blyth, kann falsch oder richtig sein; richtig aber nur, wenn sie nicht falschen Ideen aufsitzt. Falsche Ideen können zu Obsessionen werden; um sie auszuräumen, braucht es Wissenschaft, aber auch Rhetorik. Beides liefert Blyth in seinem zuerst 2013 und nunmehr auch auf Deutsch erschienenen eindrucksvollen Buch. Weiterlesen

The Politics of Exit

Review of Peter Mair, Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, Verso: London and New York, 2013

New Left Review, Vol. 88, July and August 2014, pp. 121-129

Much of what is now mainstream political science tends to be rather boring. Following the lead of American departments and journals, research on issues of real intrinsic interest, such as the changing character of political parties, seems to be stuck in endless attempts to model the choice between office-seeking and policy-seeking, the interaction between ‘vote-maximizing’ parties and ‘utility-maximizing’ voters, the organization of voter preferences or the dynamics of coalition formation — all in timelessly general property spaces, designed to lend themselves to representation by complex sets of formal equations.

There are, however, exceptions. Among the most remarkable of these, until his untimely death in the summer of 2011, was Peter Mair, professor of comparative politics at the European University Institute in Florence. Widely respected, especially on the European side of his profession, Mair preserved a keen understanding of both the history and the purpose of the study of democracy. (…)

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