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How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System Hardcover – November 29, 2016
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“This collection will be at the centre of social research for years to come.”
—Times Higher Education (“Books of the Year 2016”)
“As the economic gloom deepens to the pitch black night of geopolitical crisis, in the economics departments of the world there can still be heard the confident chuckle: ‘but capitalism always survives.’ How Will Capitalism End? is an extended riff on the possibility of the mainstream economists being wrong. Streeck synthesises the various strands of left crisis theory into a convincing proposal.”
—Guardian (“Best Books of 2016”)
“Democratic capitalism is in bad shape. The crisis of 2007–09 and subsequent election of Donald Trump demonstrate that. In this book, German sociologist Streeck argues that capitalism is doomed, as many have before. But he does not believe it will be replaced by something better. Instead a new Dark Ages lies ahead.”
—Financial Times (“Best Books of 2016”)
“Streeck’s title question—though never answered—opens a window onto the conflict between capitalism and democracy in the neoliberal era. That such a conflict exists is no surprise in Brazil, and still hidden to many in the United States, but a rude and inescapable shock to those who grew up with the comfortable illusions and utopian hopes of post-war Europe.”
—James Galbraith, author of The End of Normal
“Neoliberalism continues to delimit political choice across the globe yet it is clear that the doctrine is in severe crisis. In Wolfgang Streeck’s powerful new book How Will Capitalism End? Streeck demonstrates that the maladies afflicting the world—from secular stagnation to rising violent instability—herald not just the decline of neoliberalism, but what may prove to be the terminal phase of global capitalism.”
—Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism
“The most interesting person around today on the subject of the relationship between democracy and capitalism.”
—Christopher Bickerton, University of Cambridge
“At the heart our era’s deepening crisis there lies a touching faith that capitalism, free markets and democracy go hand in hand. Wolfgang Streeck’s new book deconstructs this myth, exposing the deeply illiberal, irrational, anti-humanist tendencies of contemporary capitalism.”
—Yanis Varoufakis, author of And the Weak Suffer What They Must?
“An important and stimulating book. It is especially interesting in the light of fashionable preoccupations with secular stagnation, the march of robots and the lamentable performance of most leading economies since the onset of the financial crisis.”
—William Keegan, author of Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment
“The most interesting person on the most urgent subject of our times.”
—Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian
“Streeck writes devastatingly and cogently … How Will Capitalism End? provides not so much a … forecast as a warning.”
—Martin Wolf, Financial Times
“Offers a powerful prognosis that predicts that the system will suffer a lingering death rather than go out with a bang … there are so many startling formulations of great analytic power in this book that it merits wide circulation in these troubled times.”
“Streeck has become one of Europe’s most sophisticated and pessimistic left-wing Euroskeptics …[his] criticism of the eurozone is powerful.”
—Jamie Martin, Bookforum
“Not one to embrace the ‘voluntaristic illusions’ of ‘we the people,’ Streeck sees such fantasies as part of a deeper structural crisis … Neoliberalism, in fragmenting workers and consumers into desperately precarious personal brands, has made mass organization effectively impossible, while traditional political channels have been systematically choked off. Capitalism, therefore, won’t be overthrown. It will kill itself through its own power to overcome the restraints that bind it.”
—Greg Afinogenov, n+1
About the Author
Wolfgang Streeck is the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Research in Cologne and Professor of Sociology at the University of Cologne. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics and a member of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences as well as the Academia Europaea. His previous books include Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.
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Top customer reviews
Per Streeck, the 2008 'Great Recession' was the latest in a long sequence of political and economic disorders that began with the end of postwar prosperity in the mid-1970s. Successive crises have proven ever more severe. Global inflation in the 1970s was followed by rising public debt in the 1980s, and fiscal consolidation in the 1990s accompanied by a steep increase in private-sector indebtedness.
Streeck also identifies three long-term trends in first industrialized, now increasingly deindustrialized capitalist countries. The first is a steady decline in the rate of economic growth, the second is an equally persistent rise in overall (governments, private citizens, financial and non-financial firms) indebtedness in those same states, and the third is ascending income and wealth inequality.
Streeck fears these three trends may be mutually reinforcing. Inequality impedes improvements in productivity and weakens demand, low growth reinforces inequality by intensifying distributional conflict as concessions to the poor become more costly, and rising debt compounds inequality caused by stagnant wages and reductions in public services. Despite innumerable demands and blueprints for 'reform' to prevent recurrence, little has changed. Governments (especially in the U.S.) have firmly remained in the grip of the money-making industries - while they in turn continue to be showered with cheap cash created by central banks. Yet, unprecedented liquidity has failed to jumpstart the economy, and inequality marches upwards - what little growth there is appropriated by the top 1%.
Several attempts were made in 2013 to reign in monetary expansion, both in Japan and the U.S., but when stock prices plunged, 'tapering' (as it was caused) was postponed. Central bank balance sheets were then at about 3X pre-crisis levels, and rising. Continued low interest rates etc. made it easy for the private sector to postpone deleveraging, easy for the government to finance deficits, and easy to delay needed reforms.
Capitalism and democracy has long been considered adversaries, until the postwar seemed to have reconciled the two. Owners of capital had feared democratic majorities abolishing private property, while workers and their groups expected capitalists to finance a return to authoritarian rule in defense of their privileges. These fears were alleviated for awhile. Today, doubts about the compatibility of capitalism with democracy have returned. Among the ordinary people, there is now a pervasive sense that politics can no longer make a difference - perceptions of deadlock, incompetence and corruption among what seems to be an increasingly self-contained and self-serving political class, manifested by declining electoral turnout.
At the same time, government debt has risen while participation rates have fallen, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have risen, and top marginal income tax rates have declined. Institutional protection of the market economy from democratic interference has advance greatly - trade unions are on the decline everywhere, economic policy widely turned over to democratically unaccountable central banks - concerned above all with the health of goodwill of financial markets, and in Europe, national economic policies, including wage-setting and budget-making, are increasingly government by super-national agencies like the European Commission and Central Bank, also beyond the reach of popular democracy. (Likewise, TPP.) Elites are also losing faith in democratic government and its ability to reshape societies in line with market imperatives - countries like China are complimented for authoritarian political systems being so much better equipped than majoritarian democracy to deal with the challenges of globalization. Elite pressures for economic neutralization of egalitarian democracy takes the form of continuing relocation of political-economic decision-making to supranational institutions such as the European Central Bank and summits of government leaders.
Both radical critics of capitalism (Marx, Polanyi) and bourgeois theorists such as Weber, Schumpeter, and Keynes have predicted its impending end. For a long time, political protests are likely to remain local, dispersed, uncoordinated.
Global mobility enables employers to replace unwilling local workers with willing immigrant ones.
The conspicuous failure of even negative real interest rates to revive investment coincided with a long-term failure to even negative real interest rates to revive investment coincided with a long-term increase in inequality. They may be one of the causes of the financialization of capitalism that began in the 1980s. This does not preclude high profits in the financial sector, essentially from speculative trading with cheap money supplied by central banks. Money generated to prevent stagnation from turning into deflation causes inflation. The only inflation in sight now is that of asset-price bubbles.
Low growth in the future does not provide additional resources with which to settle distributional conflicts and pacify discontent. Easy money provided by central banks to restore growth adds to inequality - inviting speculative rather than productive investment. Plutonomic capitalists no longer have to worry about national economic growth because their transnational fortunes grow without it - hence the exit of the superrich from Russia and Greece.
Finance is an 'industry' where innovation is hard to distinguish from rule-bending or rule-breaking, where payoffs between firms and regulatory authorities is extreme, where revolving doors between the two offer unending possibilities for corruption, where the largest firms are not just too big to fail but also too big to jail - given their importance for national economic policy and tax revenue. Nobody believes anymore in a moral revival of capitalism.
The dollar's function as international reserve currency is now contested - and it cannot be otherwise, given the rising levels of public and private debt, and several highly destructive financial crises. The U.S. has been either defeated or deadlocked in three major land wars since the 1970s.
The end of capitalism can be imagined as a death from a thousand cuts, all at the same time.
Introduction: Required reading for anyone seeking to understand the interplay of economics and politics in the current world. So many of the news stories we chalk up to "the way things are" are deconstructed and analyzed with a clarity and range one seldom finds in the mainstream media or, for that matter, in a lot of academic literature.
Chapter 3: Streeck offers a unique reading of how citizens approach questions social solidarity and government provision from the perspective of individualized consumption. While the framework feels forced at first, the chapter does ultimately shed light on why many of look down on government services, and how the business community has used this to their advantage.
Chapter 4: Here Streeck offers an impressive structural analysis of the European Union. While many of the arguments here can be found in his other work (notably Borrowed Time), this chapter, better than any other resource I've found (Yanis Varoufakis' new book comes close), answers the question of "What the hell is going on in the EU?" with amazing precision and insight.
The remaining essays, while interesting, tend to repeat the many of the arguments of the key chapters mentioned above. And again, if you are already familiar with Streeck's work, then perhaps only the intro alone will be of interest. If you are new to Streeck, then this is a great starting point. The diagnosis offered in the book is, it should be noted, incredibility pessimistic and can lead to a deep depression about one's place in today's economy. And yet this unflinching commitment to unraveling the contradictions of modern economics and their consequences is praiseworthy for this very reason. We may be headed for the iceberg, and it may be too late to turn the ship around, but Streeck has the courage to tell us where we are going. And if we are to reverse course, we need exactly this type of analysis to do it.
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