Review: How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System

How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System
How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System by Wolfgang Streeck

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Skimmed most of this book, did read the introduction and first (title) essay. That essay is also here: https://newleftreview.org/II/87/wolfg…

I will point to five systemic disorders of today’s advanced capitalism; all of them result in various ways from the weakening of traditional institutional and political restraints on capitalist advance. I call them 1 stagnation, 2 oligarchic redistribution, 3 the plundering of the public domain, 4 corruption and 5 global anarchy. (p65)

1 Stagnation: much-discussed paper by Robert Gordon, who argues that the main innovations that have driven productivity and economic growth since the 1800s could happen only once, like the increase in the speed of transportation or the installation of running water in cities http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Gordo…

2 long-term trend towards greater economic inequality

3 the rich no longer expect to pay a price for maximizing their income at the expense of the non-rich, or for pursuing their interests at the expense of the economy as a whole. (…) As productivity growth requires more public provision, it tends to become incompatible with private accumulation of profits, forcing capitalist elites to choose between the two. The result is what we are seeing already today: economic stagnation combined with oligarchic redistribution (1 & 2)

4 Capitalism’s moral decline may have to do with its economic decline, the struggle for the last remaining profit opportunities becoming uglier by the day and turning into asset-stripping on a truly gigantic scale.

5 Contemporary capitalism increasingly suffers from global anarchy, as the United States is no longer able to serve in its postwar role, and a multipolar world order is nowhere on the horizon

 

In summary, capitalism, as a social order held together by a promise of boundless collective progress, is in critical condition. Growth is giving way to secular stagnation; what economic progress remains is less and less shared; and confidence in the capitalist money economy is leveraged on a rising mountain of promises that are ever less likely to be kept. (…)
its survival depends on central banks providing it with unlimited synthetic liquidity. (…)
On the three frontiers of commodification—labour, nature and money—regulatory institutions restraining the advance of capitalism for its own good have collapsed, and after the final victory of capitalism over its enemies no political agency capable of rebuilding them is in sight.

The capitalist system is at present stricken with at least five worsening disorders for which no cure is at hand: declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption and international anarchy.

What is to be expected, on the basis of capitalism’s recent historical record, is a long and painful period of cumulative decay: of intensifying frictions, of fragility and uncertainty, and of a steady succession of ‘normal accidents’—not necessarily but quite possibly on the scale of the global breakdown of the 1930s.

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