Adam Tooze

Journal of Modern European History, February 2014


Wolfgang Streeck makes a timely effort to revive the tradition of Marxist crisis theory that was interrupted in Germany in the 1970s. Streeck’s argument begins where Habermas’s Legitimation Crisis left off. He returns us to the basic tension between capitalism and democracy which came to the fore as a central preoccupation towards the end of the long boom in the 1960s. He makes a bold and original effort to develop that schema for a new age of globalisation, spectacularly increasing inequality, financial crisis and post-democracy. Whereas Habermas left his readers with the sense of an insuperable impasse, Streeck highlights the sequence of expedients that were found to displace the tensions within capitalist democracy over time. His key metaphor is the idea of buying time so as to put off the moment of truth when the conflict between the expectations of workers and citizens and those of business became irresolvable. The first strategy of buying time was inflation, which was continued until the early 1980s. It was followed by an unprecedented peacetime surge in public debt. This gave way in the 1990s to private borrowing as the main driver of capitalist growth, privatised Keynesianism as Colin Crouch has dubbed it. In the current crisis this series of makeshifts has reached its limit.

View the paper hereWho Is Afraid of Inflation? The Long Shadow of the 1970s