Adam Tooze

Adam Tooze’s books include Crashed, about the financial crisis. Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy will be reviewed in a future issue of the LRB.

Ecological Leninism: Drill, baby, drill

Adam Tooze, 18 November 2021

Given the reality of the underlying conflict, division and strife are not to be regretted, but embraced – an essential Leninist lesson. To adopt an antagonistic stance is to do no more than respond adequately to the situation. As Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective conclude in White Skin, Black Fuel, ‘if nothing else, the anti-climate politics of the far right should shatter any remaining illusion that fossil fuels can be relinquished through some kind of smooth, reasoned transition ... A transition will happen through intense polarisation and confrontation, or it will not happen at all.’ From this point of view, the question isn’t whether liberal activists do or don’t want to engage in sabotage. If we keep to our current course, sabotage is coming. If it isn’t directed from the top, it will bubble up from below. The question is whether the mainstream climate movement can ready itself for the agonising dilemmas to come. Can it sustain its coherence and momentum in the face of crisis, violence, division and, quite likely, defeat?

‘If it were announced that we faced a threat from space aliens and needed to build up to defend ourselves,’ Paul Krugman said in 2012, ‘we’d have full employment in a year and a half.’ If 21st-century America needed an enemy, China was one candidate. On foreign policy, Krugman is perhaps best described as a left patriot. Where he had once downplayed the impact of Chinese imports on the US economy, he now declared that China’s currency policy was America’s enemy: by manipulating its exchange rate Beijing was dumping exports on America. But to Krugman’s frustration Obama never turned the pivot towards Asia into a concerted economic strategy. You might argue that in Covid we have found an enemy of precisely the kind Krugman was imagining. As far as Europe is concerned, an alien space invasion isn’t an implausible model for Covid. This novel threat broke down inhibitions in Berlin, and the Eurozone’s response was far more ambitious than it was after 2008. But America isn’t the Eurozone. For all Krugman’s gloom, it didn’t take a new world war to flip the economic policy switch. 

Whose century? After the Shock

Adam Tooze, 30 July 2020

The mistake in thinking that we are in a ‘new Cold War’ is in thinking of it as new. In putting a full stop after 1989 we prematurely declare a Western victory. From Beijing’s point of view, there was no end of history, but a continuity – not unbroken, needless to say, and requiring constant reinterpretation, as any live political tradition does, but a continuity nevertheless. Although American hawks have only a crude understanding of China’s ideology, on this particular matter they have grasped the right end of the stick. We have to take seriously the CCP’s sense of mission. We should not comfort ourselves with the thought that because nationalism is the main mode of Chinese politics today, Xi’s administration is nothing more than a nationalist regime. China under the control of the CCP is, indeed, involved in a gigantic and novel social and political experiment enrolling one-sixth of humanity, a historic project that dwarfs that of democratic capitalism in the North Atlantic.

Shockwave: Shockwave

Adam Tooze, 16 April 2020

Once you lose control all the options are bad: shut down the economy for an unforeseeable duration, or hundreds of thousands die. Trump hasn’t mastered the challenge; instead, he expresses through his vacillations and erratic utterances the impossibility of doing so by any means that won’t cause a lot of pain. In the guise of Trump the economy appears not so much as a superego laying down the law, but as an irrepressible impulse that insists we satisfy its demands regardless of the cost, a symptom not of realism but of derangement. Trump thus personifies something that is in fact common to Europe and the US: a lack of leadership at the level appropriate to dealing with a pandemic. Instead, the job has devolved to regional governors in the US and national governments in Europe, to desperately overstretched medical services, on the one hand, and the technicians of economic policy and social relief, on the other. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of individuals and their families cope as best they can. As with climate change, we are left praying for a deus ex machina in the form of a scientific breakthrough.

AngelaMerkel had a bad start to 2019. The right-wing AfD was on the rise. The reaction of the German security services to the race riots in the East German town of Chemnitz had raised questions about right-wing infiltration of the state apparatus. And then came a request from the National Gallery in Berlin for the loan of two pictures that hung in Merkel’s chancellery office. Both...

Which is worse? Germany Divided

Adam Tooze, 18 July 2019

There is much to admire about German democracy. It is flexible, open, constantly changing. The six parties it is now made up of broadly reflect the divisions of German society. The complexity is a reflection of reality. But can it produce leadership? The answer matters for Europe as well as Germany itself. A clear German position is needed on issues ranging from Brexit and the development of the Eurozone to climate change and security policy in the age of Trump. A strategic window of opportunity closed in 2017 when Emmanuel Macron waited in vain for an answer from Berlin for his Sorbonne vision of Europe’s future. Europe can ill afford further delay. It is possible that a reconfiguration of politics in Berlin will eventually produce a more decisive, more pro-European government. But that is speculation. And how long will it take?

Two years into the Trump presidency, it is a gross exaggeration to talk of an end to the American world order. The two pillars of its global power – military and financial – are still firmly in place. What has ended is any claim on the part of American democracy to provide a political model. This is certainly a historic break. Trump closes the chapter begun by Woodrow Wilson in the First World War, with his claim that American democracy articulated the deepest feelings of liberal humanity. A hundred years later, Trump has for ever personified the sleaziness, cynicism and sheer stupidity that dominates much of American political life. What we are facing is a radical disjunction between the continuity of basic structures of power and their political legitimation.

Tempestuous Seasons: Keynes in China

Adam Tooze, 13 September 2018

If, faced with fundamental environmental challenges, Keynesianism is reaching its ultimate limit, will it end with a whimper or a bang? Beijing faces the classical Keynesian dilemmas raised to a new level of extremity. Xi’s ‘Chinese dream’ is the most spectacular Keynesian promise ever made. The underlying fear of domestic unrest is palpable, the scale of repression is astonishing, but so is the gamble on growth.

A General Logic of Crisis

Adam Tooze, 5 January 2017

The publication of How Will Capitalism End? comes when Wolfgang Streeck has positioned himself as the leading intellectual proponent in Germany of a Gaullist vision of Europe from the left. Now that his cards are fully on the table it is a good moment to try to answer the question: how did Streeck turn critical theory into a vehicle for the assertion of the primacy of the nation?

After the Wars: Schäuble’s Realm

Adam Tooze, 19 November 2015

Wolfgang Schäuble​ can’t have expected an easy ride when he moved from Germany’s Interior Ministry to its Finance Ministry on 28 October 2009. Angela Merkel’s new coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the free market Liberals, was committed to reducing the government deficit. That summer the preceding Grand Coalition – the name for a coalition...

Adam Tooze writes: Wolfgang Streeck accuses me of blowing up his ‘innocent analytical distinction between “the people of the state" and “the people of the market" into an essentialist, racist, implicitly anti-Semitic conceptualisation of politics and political economy’. This reading is more revealing of Streeck’s insecurities than it is of anything I wrote. But the ‘innocent...

As the Lock Rattles

John Lanchester, 16 December 2021

Much of the poorer part of the world is still susceptible to the disease, and as long as it is, many more people will die, and the risk of new and more dangerous variants will remain. In May 2020, the...

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Bait and Switch: The Global Financial Crisis

Simon Wren-Lewis, 25 October 2018

In​ 2007, Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, was asked by a Swiss newspaper which presidential candidate he was supporting. He said it didn’t matter: ‘We are...

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A Bit of Chaos: The Great War and After

Margaret MacMillan, 5 February 2015

A common​ and still widely accepted story of the origin of the Second World War is that it was the direct result of what happened in 1919 at the end of the Great War. The French were...

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Richard Evans’s history of the Third Reich – it will be completed by a third volume covering the war – is an invaluable work of synthesis. The mass of specialist studies we now...

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