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Coping, hoping, doping and shopping

German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck believes Donald Trump is a taste of things to come. The things that make capitalism work - he argues - are the things that restrain it from being fully itself.

Streeck, emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, was speaking to Deutsche Welle about his latest work called "How will capitalism end?"

"It will be a continuous accumulation of small and not-so-small dysfunctions; none necessarily deadly as such, but most beyond repair, all the more so as they become too many for individual address," he says. 

Streeck believes technological advances, such as fracking, will buy time "and if there are limits to the pacifying powers of consumerism, we clearly are nowhere near them."

"As far as inequality is concerned, people may get used to it, especially with the help of public entertainment and political repression."

He describes the response of ordinary people that would be required to extend the lifespan of contemporary capitalism as "coping, hoping, doping and shopping."

Concerning environmental deterioration, it proceeds only slowly compared to the human lifespan, so one can deny it while learning to live with it."

All of the main theorists of capitalism have predicted its end during their lifetime and not just radical critics like Marx or Polanyi, but also non-leftist theorists such as Weber, Schumpeter, Sombart and Keynes.

Watch video 02:50

Capitalism is in crisis

Is the end nigh?

But today is different, Streeck argues. "Half a decade after the financial crisis and hardly anything has changed. In the meantime, the financial industry, where the disaster originated, has staged a full recovery: profits, dividends, salaries and bonuses are back where they were, while re-regulation became mired in international negotiations and domestic lobbying."

Governments, first and foremost that of the US, have remained firmly in the grip of the money-making industries, he says.

End of the left

"I spent a long time in my life exploring the possibilities for an intelligent social democratic solution of the class conflict," he says. "The idea that we could modify capitalism towards equality and social justice. That we could tame the beast. Now I think those are more or less utopian ideals."

"Among ordinary people, there is now a pervasive sense that politics can no longer make a difference in their lives, as reflected in common perceptions of deadlock, incompetence and corruption among what seems an increasingly self-contained and self-serving political class, united in their claim that 'there is no alternative' to them and their policies," he says.

Trump no surprise

"The rise of Donald Trump in this context was not surprising. The center-left cannot build sustainable coalitions, as we see in the case of Hillary Clinton, but also in Italy, France and the UK.

Wolfgang Streeck (Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung)

Wolfgang Streeck, author of "How will capitalism end?"

"The 'fakeness' we see plays on sentiments people can understand. Obama in many ways was more fake than Trump in this respect. Obama presided over social and industrial neglect, failed to restructure the financial industry, to offer workers a New Deal."

"Why should oligarchs be interested in their countries' democratic stability if, apparently, they can be rich without it?"

A threefold crisis

Crisis symptoms are many, Streeck argues. Firstly, a persistent decline in the rate of economic growth, recently aggravated by the events of 2008. The second is a persistent rise in overall indebtedness in leading capitalist countries, where governments, private households and non-financial as well as financial firms have, over forty years, continued to pile up financial obligations.

Third, economic inequality, of both income and wealth, has been on the ascent for several decades now, alongside rising debt and declining growth.

So, when exactly will it all come down? Well, your guess is as good as Streeck's. 

 

 

 

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