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Austerity and Anti-Austerity: the political economy of refusal in ‘low resistance’ models of capitalism

Thursday 14 April 2016
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden

The Leiden Political Economy Group (L-PEG) organizes a lecture called 'Austerity and Anti-Austerity: the political economy of refusal in ‘low resistance’ models of capitalism' by Saori Shibata, University Lecturer in the political economy of Japan.

We live in a so-called ‘age of austerity’. The period prior to 2008 was already marked as a ‘silver age of permanent austerity` (Ferrera 2008); and the advance of austerity and welfare retrenchment accelerated following 2008 as states in advanced industrial democracies sought to reduce the public debt that they incurred in responding to the global economic crisis (Bermeo and Pontusson 2012; Blyth 2013; Stanley 2014). Accounts of this move into the post-crisis ‘age of austerity’ have focused on the policy consensus built in favour of austerity and the impact that this has had upon democracy and social inequality. As Streeck puts it, ‘in order to behave ‘responsibly’, as defined by international markets and institutions, national governments will have to impose strict austerity, at the price of becoming increasingly unresponsive to their citizens’ (2011: 26). Whilst austerity has indeed become the order of the day, the present article argues that existing contributions to the austerity literature have focused too greatly on the imposition and impact of austerity. In contrast, we also need to understand and explain the impact of the range of opposition and acts of refusal to austerity that have emerged during the post-crisis context. This article explores anti-austerity activity in two countries – the UK and Japan – both of which are typically considered to be ‘low resistance’ models of capitalism. It finds that austerity is rarely uncontested. Using fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) it highlights two ‘causal recipes’ that are sufficient for anti-austerity activity to have a significant impact upon proposals for austerity, along with one route to the smooth (unobstructed) route to the imposition of austerity. From this perspective, the politics of austerity is shown to be better understood as an iterative interaction between proposals for austerity and acts of refusal, rather than the consensus view within the political economy literature which depicts a relatively smooth and straightforward imposition of austerity in a context of crisis. 

All are welcome to attend. Email us at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl if you wish to receive a copy of the paper ahead of the seminar.

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