The Politics of Public Debt: Neoliberalism, Capitalist Development and the Restructuring of the State


  • Wolfgang Streeck

    Corresponding author
    1. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
    • Address for Correspondence: Wolfgang Streeck, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Paulstr. 3, 50676 Cologne, Germany. Tel.: +49 221 2767 202; fax: +49 221 2767-402; e-mail:

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Rising public debt has been widespread in democratic-capitalist political economies since the 1970s, generally accompanied among other things by weak economic growth, rising unemployment, increasing inequality, growing tax resistance, and declining political participation. Following an initial period of fiscal consolidation in the 1990s, public debt took an unprecedented leap in reponse to the Great Recession. Renewed consolidation efforts, under the pressure of ‘financial markets’, point to a general decline in state expenditure, particularly discretionary and investment expenditure, and of extensive retrenchment and privatization of state functions.