Wolfgang Streeck

Buying Time - The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

Frankfurt Adorno Lecture 2012
(German title: Gekaufte Zeit)
ca. 271 pages
Wolfgang Streeck
Foto: Wolfgang Streeck
© MPlfG Manolo Finish

Wolfgang Streeck, born in 1946, was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Research in Cologne until 2014. He is a member of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the Academia Europaea, Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. His book Gekaufte Zeit. Die vertagte Krise des demokratischen Kapitalismus was nominated for the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair 2013 (non-fiction category) and has been translated into 17 languages to date.

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Enlightenment par excellence

»Reminds one of Karl Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte«
Jürgen Habermas


The crisis has us all on tenterhooks and creates a pervasive sense of disorientation. Problems so large as to be entirely inscrutable provoke measures that seem like emergency open heart surgery on the entire Western world – carried out without examining the patient’s past medical history. As serious as the situation is, we seem just as incapable of understanding what exactly is going on. And how it could have come to this.

»The financial magic trick of recent decades has finally become too dangerous for us to risk buying time with it once more.«

In his Frankfurt Adorno lecture, Wolfgang Streeck exposes the roots of the current financial, fiscal, and economic crisis, which he situates in the context of a long neoliberal transformation of post-war capitalism stretching back to the 1970s.
With reference to the critical theories advanced at the time, Streeck analyses the way in which the tension between democracy and capitalism has unfolded over the course of the past four decades and the resulting conflicts between states, governments, voters, and the interests of capital. Finally, he shows how the European system of states has been remodelled from one based on taxation, via debt, to one based on consolidation, and he inquires into the prospects for the re-establishment of social and economic stability.

Buying Time shows how at the basis of our contemporary situation lies something which ought to trouble us deeply: the transformation of the relationship between democracy and capitalism, for: »Democracy as we know it is on the way to being separated from capitalism and, in the interests of the latter, being reduced to a combination of the rule of law with public entertainment.«

»Today the solution to the persistent financial and fiscal crisis seems to demand nothing less than a redefinition of the relationship between politics and economics and a fundamental restructuring of the system of states, particularly in Europe.«


Selected Foreign Editions


English edition released by Verso >>

French edition released by Gallimard >>

Italian edition released by Feltrinelli >>

Portuguese edition released by Actual >>

Swedish edition released by Daidalos >>


»A superbly provocative work of political economy.« Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian

»For anyone interested in understanding the bind democracies are in, this is a vital if sobering book which has a troubling, if convincing, conclusion.« Matthew Lawrence, Prospect

»Is electoral democracy compatible with the type of economic policies the EU – backed at a distance by Washington and Wall Street – wants to impose? This is the question posed by the Cologne-based sociologist Wolfgang Streeck in Buying Time, a book that is provoking debate in Germany. Streeck argues that since Western economic growth rates began falling in the 1970s, it has been increasingly hard for politicians to square the requirements of profitability and electoral success; attempts to do so (›buying time‹) have resulted in public spending deficits and private debt. The crisis has brought the conflict of interests between the financial markets and the popular will to a head: investors drive up bond yields at the ›risk‹ of an election. The outcome in Europe will be either one or the other, capitalist or democratic, Streeck argues; given the balance of forces, the former appears most likely to prevail. Citizens will have nothing at their disposal but words – and cobblestones.« Susan Watkins, London Review of Books

»Streeck has here provided an excellent and challenging account of the current state of relations between capitalism and democracy. His concept of a state whose democratic responsibilities to voters are required systematically to be shared with and often trumped by those to creditors takes us a major step forward.« Colin Crouch, author of Coping With Post-Democracy

»Argues that ever since the 1970s, governments in the west have been ›buying time‹ for the existing social and political order … a timely corrective.« Larry Elliott, Guardian

»In its best parts – when political passion connects with critical exposition of the facts and incisive argument – Streeck’s sweeping and empirically founded inquiry reminds one of Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis BonaparteJürgen Habermas

»Logically organized, well argued, scholarly informed, and rich in theoretical references and statistical series covering nearly six decades.« Robert Boyer, ILR Review

»[Buying Time] reinvigorates the tradition to reflect on the inherent friction between democracy and capitalism in broad historical analyses... Without any doubt, [Buying Time] developes a fascinating and highly compelling narrative of the delayed crisis of capitalism. [One of the] must reads for everyone interested in the Eurozone crisis and critique of capitalism more broadly – with an academic background or as an interested citizen.« Elias Steinhilper and Haris Malamidis, European Political Science

»Streeck has found a form of sociologically informed crisis narrative that enables us to see more clearly rather than give up in the face of the complexity of the world.« Süddeutsche Zeitung

»Wolfgang Streeck issues a warning against the triumph of capitalism over democracy and presents a clear-sighted analysis of the origins of the crisis. […] One can only hope that as many people as possible read this book.« taz

»A critique of our current situation, the likes of which you have never seen.« Süddeutsche Zeitung

Other publications

Die große Regression/The Great Regression (2017)

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