challenges – attempts to move forward


Attributed to Johann Caspar Lavater, the words

Those who do not strive to move forward, are not taking themselves seriously

are at the House of Science in Bremen. It is the venue of yesterday’s symposium to honour Rudolf Hickel.

The symposium is aiming on addressing the

Herausforderungen für Politik und ökonomische Wissenschaft im 21. Jahrhundert/ Challenges for politics and scientific economic disciplines in the 21st century.

The event was organised by the University of Bremen, its Institute for Labour and Economy and the Arbeiterkammer Bremen.

In particular André Heinemann put a huge effort into compiling an interesting programme. – And actually he brought me back to Bremen, to the university, from which I obtained my doctorate. A long way if you want as André and myself actually met on occasion of the Shanghai Forum.


Importantly, the sessions and the overall event aimed on creating some space for really reflecting on some of the issues, allowing for more than presentations and Q&As only, and furthermore crossing borders. This did not (only) mean to look at wider issues of political economy but also emphasising the need of developing questions. The evening before we had been actually sitting together, mocking about parts of the current mainstream:

It is not really so important to have a question. Relevant is having data – and then you can define a question from calculating the data in some way that allows you to arrive at some interesting result.

Of course, some answers had been given during the event; and many questions had been raised. For my part, I was continuing [here and here frequently updated information the work] to ventilate the issue of precarity, in this case in close connection with the challenges posed by ‘Industry 4.0’. Soon an update will follow – linking to a text with some background considerations on the topic, titled

Beklagen von Prekarität oder Forderung nach neuen Sicherheiten/Sicherungsstrukturen – Herausforderungen durch Industrie 4.0

the audio recording of the presentation of during the symposium is available and another, more extensive presentation, to be given in early next week in Changsha will follow.

First, back to my students in Vienna … – teaching European integration at times of increasingly disintegrating pressures an interesting topic.


Employment – is that really the core issue?

In a brief presentation at ФГБОУ ВПО “РЭУ им. Г.В. Плеханова” (Plechanov University) in Moscow I addressed issues around employment, labour market policies and the structural challenges our economies and moreover societies face today by putting them into the perspective of critical and problem-solving research (Cox). This presentation is part of the research I outlined with the question: Is it really about Industry 4.0.?

In this context the recent publication of my article

may be as well of interest.


A fundamental methodological problem is the relevance of an antagonism of capitalism. This needs to be classified in light of the developmental stage of the means of production: far too little attention is paid to the contradictory character of individualization and socialization. This brings us to Karl Polányi’s main argument of disembedding. He also deals with a shift from the socially integrated (and dependent) individual to the utilitarian market citizen. The French regulationist theory offers a major step toward understanding new forms of societal embedding linked to this “new personality.” It will also allow us to move beyond the misleading juxtaposition or dichotomization of individualization-socialization. Investigating five major tensions, it ventilates the possible meaning of the digital revolution and the challenges for monitoring development. The main aim of the article, however, is to bring the economy back in and to go beyond the traditional duality between economics and politics.

Keywords: change, development, economics and social science, economy and society, social quality, theory of regulation, work


International Journal of Social Quality 6(1), Summer 2016: 87–106 ISSN: 1757-0344 (Print) • ISSN: 1757-0352 (Online) © Berghahn Books 2016 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2016.060105


New Years Thought

It is an old poem, written by Oliver Goldsmith, presenting The Deserted Village – and there may still be something in it that is worth to be thought about today – though …

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade—
A breath can make them, as a breath has made:
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.

– though the peasant of those times was still the “worker” and the princes were the “capitalists” — in danger to be overthrown by on the one hand the precarious industry 4.0 self-designer and on the other hand the finance oligarch …

Sure: Shock !! – But also Surprise ??

Yes, he made it – and the world is surprised, and comes increasingly to the conclusion that it should not be surprised. Demograph’s a joining democrats, looking for reasons behind the success of demagogues – not just in Trump’s empire to be; and illusionists reflect on the majestic power of the new magician, money. We (can) know since long:

No thing in use by man, for power of ill, Can equal money. This lays cities low, This drives men forth from quiet dwelling-place, This warps and changes minds of worthiest stamp, To turn to deeds of baseness, teaching men All shifts of cunning, and to know the guilt Of every impious deed. But they who, hired, Have wrought this crime, have laboured to their cost, Or soon or late to pay the penalty.[1]

Of course, we may set moral standards against it – and we do this also for a long time as. And with Aristotle we can

seek to define wealth and money-making in different ways; and we are right in doing so, for they are different; on the one hand true wealth, in accordance with nature, belonging to household management, productive; on the other money-making, with no place in nature, belonging to trade and not productive of goods in the full sense. In this kind of money-making, in which coined money is both the end pursued in the transaction and the medium by which the transaction is performed, there is no limit to the amount of riches to be got.[2]

But when it comes to chrematistike, we see another law and are dealing with a disjoined pattern as

there is another kind of property-getting, to which the term money-making is generally and quite rightly applied ; and it is due to it that there is thought to be no limit to wealth or its acquisition.[3]

And as much as it is about money-making, it is also about power-buying. Mr Trump knew well and he bought himself into power – importantly he did so not by bribery (as far as known) and not by the pure impact of a massive propaganda show (which he surely knew to instrumentalise). The real reason is the utilisation of objective factors that shape society,[4] permanently establishing and re-establishing this hegemonic block which is grounded in exclusion and externalisation going hand in hand; and gojg hand in hand with inclusion of some kind. – Indeed, this is a power-basis that is massively making us believe in our own hangmen.

Looking for a concise understanding of this, it is perhaps more interesting to look at the question if

(…) California (will) Leave the US Following Trump’s Victory?


Not the answer is of central interest (as is in the case not the answer what finally will happen to the Brexit).

In particular two points are for a long-term perspective more crucial.


The first quickly to be captured, and we could even leave it with the term short-termism. Still, expanding a bit on this we have to see that ‘strategic decisions’ are increasingly taken as matter of ‘filling gaps’. The fact that gaps are becoming wider, opening more frequent and opening more and more in different spheres are clearly indicating the simple though often forgotten fact of the incoherence of capitalism – and velocity is part of it: the turnover ratio of political ideas reaches the turnover ratio of capital as it both does hand in hand with the headless chicken: high velocity, looking for and picking up corns as fast as possible, as many as possible and wherever it is possible as this is the only way to obtain what is there: here and now as the tomorrow may exist, but does not have anything it can promise and actually secure. Thus rational is to go for the hic and nunc: get the job, even if it is only a project for limited time; consume what you can consume now as this is the only way of guaranteeing that it is there, yu are there and the resources are there.

The question of class – and the supposed dissolution of class-structure – should be relocated into this context. The thesis of the levelling middle-classes (as we find it with reference to James Burnham and Helmut Schelsky)[5] is carrying far – and is conceptually also underlying many debates on precarisation. According to the latter we find – in short – as one of the main features of current developments the lack of stability and security as a ‘phenomenon’ that is increasingly emerging as progressively ‘moving to the centre of society’. At first glance this is surely the case and an increasingly worrying issue. However, should we stop here? Or should we move on[6] to the thesis of ‘proletarisation’? In social science relations are too often reduced to … relations, not acknowledging the relational character. The concept of relationality cannot be discussed in full length, but one of its implications has to be highlighted – one that is also in Marxist class theory not sufficiently considered. Of course, we find at the centre the issue of the property of means of production and, taking it in a wider understanding – the control over the means of production.[7] One important, though underexposed, socio-economic aspect of this is a complex dialectic of inclusion, externalisation and exclusion – a topic that has been developed in the political perspective by Antonio Gramsci and Nicos Poulantzas though.


Taking up on such economic perspective brings us to the second aspect, where we are talking about the importance of emphasising the fact that inclusion and exclusion go hand in hand not as matter of being alternatives and not as matter of different spaces or groups. Leaving ‘peripheral’ and ‘niche aspects’ aside, the fundamental pattern is characterised by the fact on overall inclusionary character of development that not only creates new arrays of exclusion but – beyond this fact – depends on its ‘internal exclusion’. The mechanism is well-known from the making of the working class, which is based in the double freedom: disposition of other the labour power and lack of disposition of any alternative commodity for sale than exactly the labour power – Marx elaborated this in chapter 6 of the first volume of Capital.[8] We can formulate this in another way – from the side of a specific sort of ‘externalisation’: In order to be able to externalise executing own labour, by employing workers, it is necessary to grant the same bourgeois rights to the worker, making him/her bearer of the same individual rights. This is the continuation and completion of the bourgeois revolution against the feudal system of which Frederick Engels characterised the first stage by writing that the first needed

the kingdom of free competition, of personal liberty, of the equality, before the law, of all commodity owners.[9]

This means that “Power Relations” as matter of “’Exclusive Inclusion” – as I attempted in the chapter under this tile, writing about precarity – are thus at the centre of attention.[10]

As much as ‘neo-liberalism’ emphasises the need of open markets, and unregulated free-trade we have to acknowledge that this is indeed a strategy of such exclusive inclusion. The fact that this takes place and shape under conditions of a multilayered system: within nations (understood as national economies as captured by the German term of the ‘Nationalökonomie’), within regions (as we can see it for instance in the systematic perihperalisation of the Mediterranean belt of the European Union and globally as attempt to codify the wider centre-periphery-relationship by the Trade Agreements (e.g. TTIPP, TPP, TISA …). To make things a bit clearer – though seemingly more complicated – these three layers (spatiality) are going hand in hand with at least temporality (“pay tomorrow”), substantiality (“pay in another currency”, as for instance expressed in the relationship growth-environment) and not least sociality (“let others pay” – social classes and stratification).

What for instance Jeremy Riffkin and Paul Mason discuss as ‘overcoming capitalism’ – the one by prefiguring the The Zero Marginal Cost Society, the other by directly stating that The End of Capitalism has begun, suggesting for some as Thomas L. Friedman that The World is Flat, is surely not a straightforward process – and it would be foolish to reject what is said. And it would be equally foolish to solely continue by criticising the existing patterns. This said, does not mean to deny the need starkly uncover the old questions and to actually look at current escalations. However, it does mean to see this not simply as escalation of the system crisis (which it is though). Important is to see these developments as part of the overall renegotiation of “ins and outs”. But it means to emphasise that the development is not about exclusion alone. Instead – looking at Brexit and especially Califrexit clearly shows it – leaving is about allowing to stay. Califrexit is a project aiming on securing privileges, not a project against the ultra-conservatism of the future Trump-system. Thus we read in the mentioned Telesur-article

“In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidizing the other states to our own detriment and the the detriment of your children,” said Independence group “Yes California” on its website.

Yes California argues that the state’s population and economy, the sixth biggest in the world, “compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states.” The group claims that a split will give the state more control over its trade, security, as well as support diversity and the environment. It is pushing for a vote on the issue in 2019.

Understandable … ? To get a clearer picture we may want to dare a closer look at this ‘sixth biggest in the world’, presenting itself as luxurious, as egalitarian, as open:

This egalitarian style can clash with the Valley’s reality of extreme income polarization. ‘Many tech companies solved this problem by having the lowest-paid workers not actually be employees. They’re contracted out’, Schmidt explained. ‘We can treat them differently, because we don’t really hire them. The person who’s cleaning the bathroom is not exactly the same sort of person.’[11]

Don’t THESE Trump-adversaries have something of the modern slave-owners? Without doubt there is a huge danger looming, and we have to stay alert, being aware of the fact that this step of Trumpism may be the first to something that is much worse. Indeed, there is good reason to return to the question

What Produces Fascism: Preindustrial Traditions or a Crisis of the Capitalist State?

– a question that Geoff Eley already posed some longish time ago. But there is equally good reasons to watch out for the savours: The ‘old conservatives’ like the Merkels, Hollands and Renzis are not really there to offer an answer. The answer can be found, though, if we realistically look for the germs:

On the occasion of two conference – the Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en las Relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raul Roas Garcia), Havana, looking at the Development

From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How Many Gigabyte has a Horse?

and at the Shanghai Forum, China and Latin America. The Development Partnership of Trans-Pacific-Section looking at

Growth and Development – Complement or Contradiction? Challenges for a Global Agenda

I outlined an approach that works around

five giant tensions, namely the overproduction of goods and the turn of goods into ‘bads’; societal abundance versus inequality of access; abundance of knowledge and its misdirection towards skills; the individualisation of problems and their emergence as societal threat and the complexity of government and the limited scope of governance.[12]

Deeper analysis is necessary, the search for a fundamental change of thinking in economics too – something that will also be a major challenge for social quality thinking.[13]


[1] Sophocles, 442 B.C.E.: Antigone, translated by E. H. Plumptre. Vol. VIII, Part 6. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001;

[2] Aristotle, app 335 BC: The Politics; Translated and with an Introduction by T.A. Sinclair; Harmondsworth/Baltimore/Victoria: Penguin, 1962/1972: 43 f.

[3] ibid.: 41

[4] saying utilisation’ does not necessarily mean that this is happening consciously, with a ‘strategic reference’

[5] These references are too often forgotten – finally sociology and social science joined short-termism …

[6] … or return …

[7] The discussion of managing classes will be left out here.

[8] Marx, Karl, 1867 Capital, volume 1, chapter 6:

[9] Engels, Frederick, 1880: Socialism: Utopian and Scientific;

[10] Precarity – An Issue of Changed Labour Market and Employment Patterns or of Changed Social Security Systems; in: Herrmann, Peter/Bobkov, Viacheslav/Csoba, Judit (eds): Labour Market and Precarity of Employment: Theoretical Reflections and Empirical Data from Hungary and Russia; Vienna: WVFS; 2014: 11 – 66; here 25 ff.

[11] Freeland, Chrystia, 2012: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else; New York: The Penguin Press

[12] see also Herrmann, Peter, 2015: Crisis and no end? Re-embedding Economy into life and nature; in: Environment and Social Psychology (2015)–Volume 1, Issue 1: 1-11;

[13]            see Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: