Saturday, 13 May 2017

Review of 'How Will Capitalism End?'

‘How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System’ by Wolfgang Streeck
(Verso, 2016) – book reviewed by Andrew Wallace,
Capitalism and Entropy
This is an intriguingly titled volume of essays, only the first of which is however devoted to the subject of the book’s title, namely a discussion concerning various scenarios in which we might contemplate the mortality of an ‘improbable social formation, full of conflicts and contradictions,...  unstable and influx and highly conditional on historically contingent and precarious supportive and well as constraining events and institutions’.
Streek takes his cue from what he considers a seminal text co-authored 3 years earlier by 5 distinctive thinkers.  Streek’s titular essay then is very much a dialogue and assimilation of this work:-
Does Capitalism Have a Future? (2013) – Wallerstein, Collins, Mann, Derluguian, Calhoun.
The crisis scenarios under discussion are a distillation of Marxist, Keynesian and heterodox economists who remain critical of the key axioms of the so called free market, especially in the wake of the Great Recession (2008). The old spectres of market disequilibrium by overproduction or underconsumption are of course very much in contention, as is Marxist crises of profitability and the problems of modernity by obsolesce and the finite limits of land and labour. Weber and Schumpeter also introduced wider socio-economic themes inherent with bureaucratic sclerosis.
Streek suggests that various crisis scenarios from these 5 writers could be ‘aggregated into a diagnosis of multi-morbidity in which different disorders coexist and, more often than not, reinforce each other.’
No revolutionary alternative is required
A nice little irony at the centre of Streek’s thinking unfolds here. With capitalism in its contemporaneous super-turbo charged  'neoliberal' platform, having so successfully vanquished all would be alternatives (which have typically rescued the system in revitalised form at various critical points in our past history) via its bleak credo of there is no alternative ‘capital realism’easier to imagine the end of the world than capitalism, now at the zenith of its apparent impenetrable hegemony, because it has exhausted the possibilities of renewal from reformist quarters, it now be forced kicking and screaming into a prolonged period of entropy.
We are hearing from many thinkers how automation, information technology and electronicisation will have profound implications for the middle classes in much the same way in which mechanisation did for the manual working class.  With alarming implications for unemployment and ongoing secular stagnation or dramatic declines, this will add to the ongoing crisis of underconsumption and demand gap.
Streek has a nice line in irony as he notes our divided identities, located within our consumerist lifestyles, as voracious consumers of cheap clothes and electronic gadgets and household goods, we also put direct pressure on ourselves as producers, ‘accelerating the move of production abroad and thereby undermining (our) own wages, working conditions and employment.’
Neoliberalism has overextended itself, having cannibalised a lot of the soft underbelly, social capital and infrastructure vital to maintaining confidence and stability in the normative capitalist context.
Useful contribution to our Post-Liberal era
The other essays in the book discuss the nature in the shift of post war Keynesian democracy to the post democratic ordoliberalism of thinkers like Hayek, given the move to depoliticisation in many domestic spheres and of course international governance from the EU.
This is an interesting short volume of essays although some of the later offerings may come across as a little dry and technical.  Streek is certainly making a very interesting contribution to ongoing discussions concerning the distinct post-liberal phase we seem to be entering with the marked rise of anti-globalisation sentiments.  And whilst the political atrophy of the left continues, it is important to note that wider structural shifts in the nature of capitalism may mean that other practicalities apart from mere politics may force the hand of history.

No comments: