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Politics in the Age of Austerity


In a world of increasing austerity measures, democratic politics comes under pressure. With the need to consolidate budgets and to accommodate financial markets, the responsiveness of governments to voters declines. However, democracy depends on choice. Citizens must be able to influence the course of government through elections and if a change in government cannot translate into different policies, democracy is incapacitated.

Many mature democracies are approaching this situation as they confront fiscal crisis. For almost three decades, OECD countries have - in fits and starts - run deficits and accumulated debt. As a result, an ever smaller part of government revenue is available today for discretionary spending and social investment and whichever party comes into office will find its hands tied by past decisions. The current financial and fiscal crisis has exacerbated the long-term shrinking government discretion; projects for political change have lost credibility. Many citizens are aware of this situation: they turn away from party politics and stay at home on Election Day.

With contributions from leading scholars in the forefront of sociology, politics and economics, this timely book will be of great interest to students and scholars throughout the social sciences as well as general readers.

Armin Schäfer is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany.

Wolfgang Streeck is Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany.

Contributors vii

1 Introduction: Politics in the Age of Austerity 1
Armin Schäfer and Wolfgang Streeck

2 Public Finance and the Decline of State Capacity in Democratic Capitalism 26
Wolfgang Streeck and Daniel Mertens

3 Tax Competition and Fiscal Democracy 59
Philipp Genschel and Peter Schwarz

4 Governing as an Engineering Problem: The Political Economy of Swedish Success 84
Sven Steinmo

5 Monetary Union, Fiscal Crisis and the Disabling of Democratic Accountability 108
Fritz W. Scharpf

6 Smaghi versus the Parties: Representative Government and Institutional Constraints 143
Peter Mair

7 Liberalization, Inequality and Democracy’s Discontent 169
Armin Schäfer

8 Participatory Inequality in the Austerity State: A Supply-Side Approach 196
Claus Offe

9 From Markets versus States to Corporations versus Civil Society? 219
Colin Crouch

10 The Normalization of the Right in Post-Security Europe 239
Mabel Berezin

11 The Crisis in Context: Democratic Capitalism and its Contradictions 262
Wolfgang Streeck

Notes 287

Index 303