Capitalism, what now? Growth Strategies in Western Europe since 1979

Lars Döpking M.A.

Economically speaking, Italy has recently been through hard times. Between 1999 and 2019 annual economic growth averaged less than 0.5%, resulting in high unemployment (especially among youngsters), collapsing household savings and political upheaval. These "lost decades" between joining the euro and the turmoil of a global pandemic are generally interpreted as the result of a long historical decline. Since Italy was unable to implement a strong or at least coherent growth strategy – i.e. neither did it follow Germany's example and rely on the export sector nor, like Spain, mobilize demand via the financial sector – the country lacks economic dynamism. Italian capitalism is therefore considered dysfunctional, if not failed. Little hope remains for it within the common market.
My project argues against this diagnosis, doubting that coherent strategies are mainly responsible for the success or failure of economies. It also criticizes the idea that Italian capitalism finds itself in an insurmountable downward spiral. To this end, I comparatively examine the way in which States developed new approaches to bring their economies back to growth after stagflation, oil price shocks and the exchange rate mechanism in 1979. Using Italy, Spain and the Federal Republic of Germany as examples, my project aims to show that these States by no means limited themselves to a neoliberal repertoire of actions. Instead, newly founded economic research institutes compared economic developments with one another, discovered alternative paths, and finally formulated common steps toward future prosperity. The analysis of their controversial strategy recommendations and their collision with unforeseen events and processes – the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the digitalization of capitalism for example – explores the never-ending dynamics of capitalist economies and allows to develop a new perspective on the history of contemporary capitalism in Western Europe.

Lars Döpking M.A.
Researcher Contemporary History
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