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BIPR | The Shifting Relationship between Postwar Capitalism and Democracy
The Shifting Relationship between Postwar Capitalism and Democracy

February 25, 2021 - 18:30

Online Event

Peter A. Hall, Harvard University, US

Event Recap

The webinar is opened with a word of welcome from Professor Erik Jones, the host of this event, who also introduces the audience to tonight’s main speaker, Professor Peter Hall. Professor Hall then kicks off the evening by introducing the three questions that will be discussed: ‘What is the balance of influence between Capitalism and Democracy?’ ‘How does this balance affect the distribution of wellbeing in capitalist democracies?’ and ‘How is this balance determined?’

To approach these questions, Professor Hall begins from classical theories of democracy. In these theories, some see democracy as a threat to capitalism, others see capitalism as threatening to democracy, and yet others see the two in a symbiotic relation to each other. However, Professor Hall argues, all these approaches have an important limitation, namely that they treat capitalism and democracy as fixed sets of core institutions, even though important dimensions of their operations change over time. In order to develop a more historical analysis with categories that capture key changes in the operation of democracy and capitalism, Professor Hall uses the concepts of growth regimes and representation regimes.

Growth regimes refer to the ensemble of institutionalised practices central to the process whereby a country secures economic prosperity, are composed primarily of the complementary practices of two actors: firms, which oversee production, and governments, whose policies affect production. On the other hand, representation regimes determine whose voices are heard, as well as in what form and with how much force they are heard. Representation regimes operate via the electoral arena and the arena of producer group politics and change over time. The quality of representation is often said to be conditioned by cross-national variation in institutional arrangements, by the opinions of median voters or by the variation in the partisan composition of governments. However, Professor Hall argues that none of these conditions fully explain changes in the character of representation over long periods of time, since constitutional rules are often invariant over such periods, median voters’ accounts may not say enough about how these voters’ concerns change over time, and partisan alternation in governments may matter mainly in the short term.

As an example of this, Professor Hall points to European political parties which, over 75 years post-WWII, have tended to all move together to the left and to the right across the continent. Professor Hall explains these movements by pointing to major world events and to changes in the prevailing structure of political cleavages. In this context, three broad time periods are identifiable in post-war developed democracies: a 1945-1975 modernisation era, a 1975-2000 liberalisation era and a knowledge-based era since 2000. In each of these periods, the growth regime and representation regime shifts, thereby altering the balance between democracy and capitalism.

Professor Hall concludes that while capitalism always influences public policy, democratic governments can also impose serious constraints on the operation of capitalism offsetting some of tis most adverse effects. Whether they do so depends on the character of the prevailing representation regime, which in turn depends on the galvanising force of economic events and the shifting structure of political cleavages. Therefore, the balance of influence between capitalism and democracy is not fixed.

Recorded Video:


The Shifting Relationship between Postwar Capitalism and Democracy
European and Eurasian Studies Series

hosted by Professor Erik Jones

Peter A. Hall
Harvard University, US

Peter A. Hall is Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies in the Department of Government at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University and an Associate of the CIFAR Program on Successful Societies which he co-directed for fifteen years.

Hall is editor of The Politics of Representation in the Global Age (with W. Jacoby, J. Levy and S. Meunier), Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era and Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health(with Michèle Lamont), Changing France: The Politics that Markets Make (with P. Culpepper and B. Palier), Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage (with David Soskice), The Political Power of Economic Ideas: Keynesianism across Nations, Developments in French Politics I and II (with A. Guyomarch and H. Machin), European Labor in the 1980s and the author of Governing the Economy: The Politics of State Intervention in Britain and France and more than a hundred articles on European politics, policy-making, and comparative political economy.

He serves on the editorial boards of many journals and the advisory boards of several European institutes. He is currently working on the political response to economic challenges in postwar Europe, the economic and cultural roots of populism, and the impact of social institutions on inequalities in health and well-being.
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