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Living Well Within Limits

Visiting Professorship - Julia Steinberger

Living well within limits
public lecture

May 30th, 2023 

Julia Steinberger, professor of Ecological Economics at University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Andreas Novy, WU Vienna, IKPS
Jürgen Essletzbichler, Head of the Department for Socioeconomics, WU Vienna
Ulrich Brand, ÖFSE
Marina Fischer-Kowalski, University of Natural Resources & Life Sciences
Daniel Huppmann, IIASA

On May 30th, 2023 the Viennese Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship will be awarded for the fifth time. This semester’s Visiting Professor Julia Steinberger will hold her Public Lecture at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Wien). The event will also be streamed here.

Kenyote: Living Well Within Limits

This talk will report on the multiple research streams resulting from the Living Well Within Limits project. The Living Well Within Limits project investigates the energy requirements of well-being, from quantitative, participatory and provisioning systems perspectives. In this presentation, I will communicate individual and cross-cutting findings from the project, and their implications. In particular, I will share our most recent results on global energy footprint inequality, implications of redistribution, as well as modelling the minimum energy demand that would provide decent living standards for everyone on earth by 2050. I will show that achieving low-carbon well-being, both from the beneficiary (“consumer”) and supply-chain (“producer”) sides, involves strong distributional and political elements. Simply researching this area from a technical, social or economic lens is insufficient to draw out the reasons for poor outcomes and most promising avenues for positive change. I thus argue for the active involvement of the research community.

“Simply researching this area from a technical, social or economic lens is insufficient to draw out the reasons for poor outcomes and most promising avenues for positive change. I thus argue for the active involvement of the research community.”

We are looking forward to seeing many of you there! 

Ayşe Buğra

Ayşe Buğra

We are overjoyed to welcome Ayşe Buğra as our third Polanyi Visiting Professor.  She is professor ermerita at Bogazici University & Atatürk-Institut for modern Turkish history in Istanbul. In the course of her visit to Vienna, she will hold a PhD-seminar on “social policy”, an Internal Workshop at Central European University and two open lectures, dealing with “The Dialectics of Western Universalism”. 

AyseBugra 2020


Ayşe Buğra is professor emerita of Political Economy at Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History in Istanbul. She holds a doctoral degree in economics from McGill University, Canada and co-founded the research centre Social Policy Forum at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Her research work and publications deal with comparative social policy, gender relations, international development and business history. 

She has published extensively on methodology of economics, general social policy and female employment patterns in Turkish, English and French has received various Awards for her academic achievement. Moreover she has translated Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” into Turkish and put the economist’s work in the center of her co-edited publication Reading Karl Polanyi for the 21st Century: Market Economy as Political Project in 2007. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of the International Karl Polanyi Institute at Concordia University in Montreal, Candada.


May 17th, 7.00 PM (UCT+2)

“The Dialectics of Western Universalism”

“Paths Out of the Crisis: Envisioning a Post-COVID World”

Visiting Professorship - Fred Block

Paths Out of the Crisis:  Envisioning a Post-COVID World

November 15th, 2021, 6.30 PM CET
Online Lecture by Fred Block, hosted by JKU Linz

It follows from the first talk that significant structural reforms are needed to protect democratic governance and to cope effectively with climate change.  However, even in proposals for a Green New Deal that would be global in its reach, we tend to have something more like a laundry list of needed changes rather than a coherent vision of an alternative to the world we had before the global pandemic.

The lecture will argue that the project of democratizing habitation could provide an agenda and a vision that could assemble and mobilize political majorities in many nations.  Why habitation?  Why democratizing habitation?   The lecture will seek to answer these questions.

Why are Liberal Democracies in Crisis?

Visiting Professorship - Fred Block

Why are Liberal Democracies in Crisis?

November 11th, 2021, 8 PM CET (Online)

This lecture will explore the similarities and differences between the crisis of democracy in Europe in the interwar years and the contemporary global crisis of democracy. It will focus on the process of political polarization that diminishes the strength of established centrist political leaders and opens the way for more heterodox leaders of the right or of the left. 

The lecture will draw on Karl Polanyi’s work to understand the underpinnings of political polarization.  Why do many people abandon previously held political commitments and embrace views that would previously have been dismissed as “fringe” or extreme?  How do we understand the mix of material and ideal interests in explaining these shifts in belief?

Fred Block


As our second Polanyi Visiting Professorship, we are more than happy to welcome professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, Fred Block to Vienna. In the course of his visit to Vienna, he will hold a  PhD- seminar, an Internal Workshop at Central European University and two open lectures.


Fred L. Block is a critical intellectual who has written widely on issues of politics and political economy.  He is a research professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis. He also serves as President of the Center for Engaged Scholarship. Fred’s wide ranging writings cover topics such as state theory, the organization of the international monetary system, changes in the U.S. innovation system, and the prospects for radical reform of U.S. society. 

Fred’s work has drawn heavily on the writings of the Hungarian refugee intellectual, Karl Polanyi. Fred has served on the Board of the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy since 1989. He has also been a member of the editorial board of Politics & Society for many years. His latest book, Capitalism: The Future of an Illusion (2018) explains how U.S. politics got caught in a loop that alternates between center-left Democrats and increasingly extreme-right Republicans, arguing that, to exit this cycle of raised hopes followed by dashed dreams, we must challenge the idea that we live in a society that operates according to its own inner laws.


November 11th, 2021, 8 PM

“Why are Liberal Democracies in Crisis?”

Opening Lecture by Fred Block, VHS Wiener Urania

November 15th, 2021, 6.30 PM

“Paths Out of the Crisis:  Envisioning a Post-COVID World”

Online Lecture by Fred Block, hosted by JKU Linz

November 16th, 2021, 5.30 PM

American Capitalism: Choosing among Trump, Biden and Bernie Sanders

Online Interview: Raimund Löw (Journalist & Historian, ORF & Falter) & Fred Block, hosted by CEU 

Research Seminar

18.10. - 10.12.2021

Research Seminar Fraser

Nancy Fraser -
Research Seminar (PASSED)

As our first  Vienna Karl Polanyi Visiting Professor, Nancy Fraser will hold a PhD-seminar, give a public lecture and participate in an internal workshop at CEU accompanied with a public debate in Spring 2021. The Seminar will be open for students from University of Vienna, Central European University and Vienna University of Economics and Business. The Public lectures in Vienna and Linz will be open for everybody interested. Due to the measures set to combat the Corona-Virus, all events are planned as online events.


The Research Seminar “Two Karls Plus” on Contemporary Capitalism will be open for PhD-Students at Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), University of Vienna and Central European University (CEU). Also, Master-Students at University of Vienna and CEU will be able to participate. Due to the Pandemic, the seminar will take place online. Participation is limited to eight students from WU, University of Vienna and CEU each. 


Interested Students have to submit an application with a letter of  motivation (1 page max) and a CV. Applications should be sent until February 26th 2021 by mail. Please send your application to the following mail-address:

WU: Andreas Novy (
University of Vienna: Bernhard Kittel (
CEU: Carsten Schneider (

Seminar Content

After a period of relative neglect, theorists are again taking up the critique of capitalism. Responding to the metastasizing crises of neoliberalism (financial, economic, ecological, political and social) and to the crumbling of the center-left-cum-center-right political hegemony that underpinned it, many are now returning to the concerns of Marx and Polanyi. But today’s theories of capitalism do not only reactivate the insights of the “two Karls.” At their best, they also incorporate the hard-won fruits of subsequent intellectual and political developments, including feminism, anti-racism, postcolonialism, and ecology. In this seminar, we interrogate some of the most important critiques of capitalism, both old and new. The aim is to assess their respective capacities to clarify the capitalism of 21st century, while disclosing what is living and what is dead in each of the Karls. The larger aim is to develop a critical theory of capitalist society that is sufficiently expansive to encompass the gamut of contemporary modes of domination and social struggles, while disclosing their shared bases in a single overarching social order with a determinate institutional structure. The result should also clarify the prospects for an emancipatory resolution of the current crisis.


Mo,22.03.202119:00-22:00 Uhr Online
Mo,10.05.202119:00-22:00 Uhr Online
Mi,12.05.202119:00-22:00 Uhr Online
Mo,17.05.202119:00-22:00 Uhr Online
Mi,19.05.202119:00-22:00 Uhr Online

For further information / additional questions:

Incinerating Nature

Visiting Professorship - Nancy Fraser

Incinerating nature. Why global warming is baked into capitalist society

May 4th, 2021 

On May 4th, 2021 the Viennese Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship has been officially awarded for the first time. In the Wappensaal of the Vienna City Hall, City Councillor for Science and Culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, ceremoniously handed over the Visiting Professorship to our first Visiting Professor, Nancy Fraser. Due to ongoing pandemic measures and restrictions, the event was held on-site with only participating speakers, and the event including Fraser’s keynote was streamed live via social media, where approx. 500 people watched the inauguration.

“The system gives capitalists motive, means and opportunity to savage the planet. It is they, and not humans in general, who have brought us global warming–but not by chance or simple greed. Rather, the dynamic that has governed their actions and led to that outcome is baked into very structure of capitalist society.”

IKPS President and Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Andreas Novy, opened the evening and also guided us through the rest of the evening. The three universities involved in the visiting professorship – Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), University of Vienna and Central European University (CEU) – were represented by Sigrid Stagl (WU Vienna), Bernhard Kittel (University of Vienna) and Liviu Matei (CEU), and board member Maria Markantonatou from Greece (Uni Lesbos) joined for the IKPS. The laudation for Prof. Nancy Fraser was held by Prof. Brigitte Aulenbacher (JKU Linz) and can be read here. After Fraser’s keynote there was a commentary by Attila Melegh (Corvinus University of Budapest). 

Kenyote: Incinerating Nature

Many societies have experienced ecological crises; some have even perished due to environmental impasses of their own making. But only capitalist societies produce such crises non-accidentally, as a result of their intrinsic structure. Combining insights from Polanyi and Marx, Nancy Fraser excavates a deep-seated ecological contradiction lodged at the very core of capitalist society, which she claims is the central driver of global warming. Far from standing alone, however, this contradiction is entwined with several others (economic, social, and political), which are equally endemic to capitalism–and equally implicated in the present crisis. After situating climate change within the system’s “general crisis“, Fraser maintains that the first cannot be successfully resolved apart from the second. She concludes, finally, that an ecopolitics serious about saving the planet must be anti-capitalist and trans-environmental.

“All told, capitalism’s ecological contradiction cannot be neatly separated from the system’s other constitutive irrationalities and injustices. To ignore the latter by adopting the reductive ecologistic perspective of single-issue environmentalism is to miss the distinctive institutional structure of capitalist society.”

The Lecture continued with a second part on the next day. Watch the second part here

Environmentalism of the Rich

Visiting Professorship - Nancy Fraser

Against the environmentalism of the rich. What capitalism’s history can teach us about ecopolitics.

May 5th, 2021

In the Online-Lecture of May 5th, Nancy Fraser deepened the argument of her Keynote of May 4th at the Inauguration of the Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship. The second lecture historicized capitalism’s ecological contradiction.

“Ecological questions cannot be separated from questions of political power, on the one hand, nor from those of racial oppression, imperial domination and indigenous dispossession and genocide, on the other hand.”

Charting its passage through four socioecological regimes of accumulation, Fraser discloses a series of regime-specific impasses, never definitively resolved, but provisionally defused by temporary “fixes” that offload the damages onto subaltern communities. The effect is to uncover the pervasive entanglement of environmental despoliation with class, gender and racial-imperial domination in capitalist society. Canvassing the history of eco-resistance, she observes that efforts to protect “nature,” far from being free-standing, have almost always been integrated into broader struggles that focus as well on labor, social reproduction and political power. Unmasking single-issue ecologism as “the environmentalism of the rich,” she weighs the prospects for uniting proponents of environmental justice, degrowth, and a Green New Deal in a trans-environmental, anti-capitalist movement, whose goal could be called ecosocialism.

Degrowth and the US-Elections

US Elections 2020

"Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet - and we’ve lost sight of it"

In order to better understand the current fight for the presidency in the US, John Hultgren and David Bond from Bennington College (Vermont, USA) talked to Gareth Dale about the importance of the Green New Deal, the need for a reduction of fossil fuels and the Degrowth movement. 

29th October, 2020

The Green New Deal and the Threat of Corporate Capture

David Bond & John Hultgren: The Green New Deal has captured the imagination of the Left in the US and beyond. After decades of playing defense, the Green New Deal advances a bold progressive vision on par with the immense need of today: a moment tipping precariously towards climate catastrophe. The Green New Deal also has the great advantage of harkening back to an immensely popular moment when government reimagined its responsibilities to the people. Drawing on Karl Polanyi’s own “ambivalences and ambiguities” about the New Deal, you advise caution on the Green New Deal. Can you explain your hesitations around the Green New Deal?

Gareth Dale: As you say, the climate catastrophe is tipping perilously. The Mauna Loa emissions graph climbs ever upwards. Radical change is urgent, and the GND is visionary. We shouldn’t see it as a definitive programme but as a “battlefield”—to use Thea Riofrancos’ term. And so too was Roosevelt’s New Deal. He didn’t enter office with a social-democratic agenda. It came thanks to movements—the hunger marches and rent strikes, the Teamster Rebellion and the waves of sit-down strikes. Those same years remind us that when organisers and movement leaders tied themselves to state institutions, their ability to mobilise went into decline. And while the New Deal did enact vital progressive reforms, and legitimated the unions, it also re-stabilised the capitalist order. It consolidated America’s grotesque, nature-trashing growth model—and then Roosevelt launched the US oil grab in the Middle East. Similar dangers face the GND today. State leaders and corporate interests are trying to own it. We saw this back in 2008 with the so-called green stimulus packages in South Korea and China. When you looked at the detail there’s virtually nothing green, it’s almost entirely greenwash and growth boosterism. The same was seen again in South Korea this year with its new GND. Within a fortnight of the announcement, the Korean government authorised a colossal bailout of Doosan Heavy Industries, one of the world’s biggest coal exporters. So any “caution” I’m voicing is against the threat of corporate capture. The movement angle of the GND, the campaigning efforts and visions of environmentalists and socialists, is inspiring—a bright light in the general murk.

“When organisers and movement leaders tied themselves to state institutions, their ability to mobilise went into decline”

David Bond & John Hultgren: Despite being quite popular and fanning the enthusiasm of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in the current presidential campaign the Green New Deal is lambasted by both sides. Trump calls it a socialist takeover of American democracy while Biden backpedals into a less transformational, more corporate friendly, and utterly devoid of social justice version he calls “Build Back Better.” With so much at stake in 2020, why do you think now is the time to push the Green New Deal to clarify its relation to growth in particular and to the capitalist state in general?

Gareth Dale: Surely it’s always the time to clarify the relations of political projects to capital and capitalist states, for it’s they who set the economic and political framework, the rules. It’s their machine that’s steering the world to the precipice. Trump’s version is the death cult, exulting in planetary arson. Biden is a bit less repulsive, but driving a similar juggernaut. He’s currently distancing himself from the GND but if he returns, it’ll be with the aim of clipping its wings, taming it for Wall Street. So yes, in November 2020 there’s a lot at stake—and this campaign year also showcased the ability of the US electoral system to blackmail the left, with the threats that any militancy will endanger the Democrats’ prospects. So, whoever wins, organising in our communities and on the streets (…um, with masks of course…) will be more needed than ever: to push back the fascists, to keep the heat on Biden (if he wins), but also to begin to build left spaces independent from the state-supporting parties.

Fossil Fuel Reduction, Poverty Reduction & Degrowth

David Bond & John Hultgren: COVID-19 has shuttered economies around the globe and sent hundreds of millions of people worldwide into abject forms of destitution. As transportation ground to a halt and people sheltered in place, fossil fuel consumption declined significantly. You note that the sharp reductions in CO2 emissions we’ve experienced in the past 9 months must continue for decades to stave off the worst of climate change and retain some semblance of modern society. How can we continue drastic reductions of fossil fuels without also sending billions of people into poverty?

Gareth Dale: Well, billions of people already are in poverty. If we don’t drastically reduce fossil fuel use, they’ll be sent into early graves—and perhaps the human species with them—through the well-established laws of global heating and the slightly less predictable feedback loops that it’s triggering. As to how to reduce, the climate threat is so severe that drastic reductions are needed of both fossil fuel production and overall demand. So, ramp up renewables, quickly. And cut demand. Human energy consumption rose from forty terrajoules per year in 1900 to a hundred in 1950 to over five hundred today. That’s unsustainable, and can’t all be supplied by wind and waves. Obvious targets are the consumption of the super-rich, and the Pentagon—slash all that. Direct resources instead to supporting the poor, ensuring good food and shelter, and water, sanitation and electricity for all. And beyond? Well, homo sapiens is an enthrallingly needs-expanding species, but are we also a needs-comprehending species? Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet and we’ve lost sight of it—thanks to the blinkers enforced by the capitalist system. Really, humanity should hunker down for a few hundred years. Tread lightly, to save ourselves and millions of species. This isn’t a prescription for hair shirts and self-flagellation, but resource and energy use must be clipped. You and I met at a Karl Polanyi conference. Well, in the early twentieth century Polanyi lived a happy and culturally extremely rich life, consuming a small fraction of the energy and materials that are at the command of his counterparts today. And Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto argued that the productive forces had reached the point at which a transition to communism could be envisaged. This was 1848. Before the invention of the car, the telephone, even the safety pin. I’m not suggesting we ‘rewind’ to that date. But for the love of life, of people and nature, present and future, a few delights of civilisation simply have to be suspended: all SUVs, all aviation (apart from dirigibles), nearly all beef (unless lab-grown), and so on.

“Our most fundamental need is for a habitable planet and we’ve lost sight of it—thanks to the blinkers enforced by the capitalist system.”

David Bond & John Hultgren: Degrowth, you have argued, is actually the most sober assessment of the current situation. Yet it struggles, as you note, to “find mass resonance.” Part of the New Deal, you suggest, contained kernels of contemporary degrowth – the government suppressed housing construction, people tore up their lawns and grew victory gardens, etc. Yet outside of the inflamed patriotism of a nation at war, it’s hard to imagine such sacrifice becoming a core commitment of party platforms let alone policies in the US. How can degrowth gain an enthusiastic base? Can we have a “homefront ecology” shorn of its nationalism?

Gareth Dale: A ’sober’ assessment of our situation is hard to reach. Can human minds really grasp the import of the climate catastrophe, the accelerating mass extinctions that their society is causing, let alone the possible end of their species itself? But yes, the degrowthers come closer than anyone else. In terms of strategy, I would put a rather different emphasis: I’d emphasise climate jobs programmes. These bring labour unionists together with environmentalists to campaign for a state-led ‘just transition,’ with secure ‘green jobs’ and care jobs and across-the-board economic change. It’s a programme that can address, and counter, two great fears of the present—mass unemployment and environmental collapse.

David Bond & John Hultgren: The poor have, in one way or another, been living a coercive form of degrowth for generations. Is there a class dimension to your theory of degrowth?

Gareth Dale: Degrowthers would say you’re completely misrepresenting their position. Their politics is all about overcoming poverty even as the materials and energy envelope reduces. And in some of my own work (The tide is rising, don’t rock the boat!), I’ve discussed how the growth paradigm, as an ideology of capitalist society, has been used historically to legitimate poverty and inequality. So yes, all of this pivots on class. The capitalist system is geared to relentless accumulation, which is spun as “growth,” which destroys nature, polarises society by class, by race, by gender and between rich and poor nations. The ownership of the world by a particular class—capitalists—who are driven by competition and the profit motive—is the root of all these evils.

“The capitalist system is geared to relentless accumulation, which is spun as “growth” and destroys nature, polarises society by class, by race, by gender and between rich and poor nations.”

David Bond & John Hultgren: The last decade has brought tremendous hope for progressive policies in the US as the neoliberal agenda is shown to be insufficient to the present challenges and actually part of the problem. In many parts of the world, the perennial logic of austerity is weakening and tax hikes on the obscenely wealthy promise a new boon to an emboldened progressive state (in the US, nationalized healthcare, free college education, and the Green New Deal). Is there a danger, in such a conjuncture, that a turn to degrowth morphs into an argument for austerity by progressive means?

Gareth Dale: Degrowthers are totally opposed to neoliberal austerity politics. A few of them do re-work the term ‘austerity’, but for very different purposes. On this, I criticise their position, you can find it in Degrowth and the Green New Deal. But it’s a small difference, perhaps only a quibble. And I hope you’re right about the tax hikes on the super-rich!

Polanyi's non-revolutionary Socialism

David Bond & John Hultgren: You argue that Polanyi “advanced a radical but non-revolutionary socialism.” Is there a contemporary party or movement that is similarly advocating for this brand of socialism? Where does BLM fit into this?

Gareth Dale: Yes, Polanyi was an anti-capitalist but didn’t understand capitalism—indeed, it wasn’t even on his theoretical compass. I think Bernie and especially Corbyn are quite close to his politics. That came with some tremendous strengths—not least of course the ability to build a sizeable socialist movement—but also weaknesses—including the tendency to collapse back into the liberal centre, and in Sanders’ case to cast votes for US imperialist adventures and projects. As to BLM, well, how much has it taught us, yet again this year! What an inspiring reminder of the capacity of popular rebellion to shake up an ossified political landscape. It has reminded us how radical politics can challenge the state ‘from without.’ Thanks to BLM, race politics in the US may have made greater strides during Trump’s tenure than any time since the 1960s. Possibly not. But even to have raised this as a possibility would’ve been laughed out of court half a year ago when politics still seemed a space strictly reserved for the state-supporting parties.

Gareth Dale

Gareth Dale is senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Brunel University, London. Before joining Brunel in 2005, he worked at Birkbeck, the LSE and Swansea University. His most recent books are Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left and Reconstructing Karl Polanyi: Excavation and Critique, and a critique of ‘Green Growth’ (all in 2016).

David Bond

Associate Director of CAPA (Center for the Advancement of Public Action) in Bennington College, Vermont, USA

John Hultgren

Faculty of Society, Culture & Thought and Faculty of Environmental Studies, Bennington College Vermont, USA

More on the US: 

Online-Discussion with Fred Block, Margaret R. Somers, and Robert Kuttner. Organized by the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy (Montreal).
Margaret Somers on the US-Elections and beyond, interviewed by John Hultgren and David Bond. November, 2020.
Gareth Dale on Degrowth and the US-Elections, interviewed by John Hultgren and David Bond. October, 2020.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.

Italy: New Problems are not New

Debate on the Crisis in Southern Europe

Italy: New problems are not new

25th of June, 2020

Michele Cangiani

The emergency of the pandemic disease has given rise in Italy to worries, studies and debates, ranging from immediate to long-term issues, and from internal to European and global problems.

The particular case of the health care system can be a meaningful start point – even if here it won’t be possible to go much further. In the years 2010-2019 public health expenditure increased in Italy by 0,9% per year on average, with an average inflation of 1,07%. In 2018 the expenditure was 10% higher than in 2009, compared to an average of 37% in OECD countries. In those years, the planned increase in healthcare spending was cut by € 37billion. The turnover of doctors and nurses has been stopped or reduced in most Regions, since a spending cap was imposed on regional budgets. In 2017 hospital beds were 3.2 per 1,000 inhabitants, while the European Union average was 5 beds. In the same year, the 23.5% of total expenditure was ‘out of pocket’: the highest in the EU (16% average of the other member states). A growing number of Italians – 1/3 of the total, according to a recent esteem (Eurispes) – have to give up or postpone treatments; other get into debt for paying for them. Health care has been increasingly privatized. In the Region Lombardia, 40% of the total expenditure goes to private organizations, which are generally not prepared to face emergencies like the present pandemic, because this would require ‘unproductive’ investment. Generally speaking, the choices regarding which activities will be carried out follow criteria of economic rather than social convenience.

The Italian case of the evolution of the health care system meaningfully represents the economic, ideological and political results of the neoliberal transformation, which unsuccessfully attempted to escape the systemic crisis of capitalism. The reform of 1978 instituting the National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale) was an outcome of the previous epoch, in which new rights of “social citizenship” (T.H. Marshall) were acquired. That reform attempted at a democratization grounded on two complementary principles. One was universalism: a general national system would provide health care for all citizens, independently of personal revenue. The other was the role in controlling and addressing the Service entrusted not only to the Ministry of Health, but also to local administrations, trade unions and patients’ associations. In fact, both efficiency and democracy were subsequently corroded. Interferences by the alliance between political and business interests were not amended by the increasing administrative and fiscal regional autonomy. Besides, regional differences widened.

Neoliberal strategies, politics and attitudes were bolstered by the conversion of former socialist parties and by the neoliberal frame of the European Union’s constitution. Peculiar national conditions made membership in the EU less favourable, and the crisis harder, for Italy than for other countries. There is, to begin with, the decay of Italian industry, caused by low investment in innovation, acquisitions by foreign investors, capital flight, delocalization, and privatization of state-owned industries, some of which had a leader position in the world. The political class has been more inclined to collusion with big and small corporative interests than capable of promoting a farsighted policy, addressed to innovation-driven growth, ecological conversion, education, research and welfare. A substantial reduction in tax evasion and elusion was never pursued.

Besides, governmental intervention has been limited by the constraint of the public debt, which slowly decreased after Italy’s entrance in the euro zone, but augmented with the crisis (the ratio to GNP was 134,5% at the end of 2018). This was also the result of counterproductive austerity measures, which contributed to depress production and to augment unemployment and inequality (Gini Index reached 0.334 in 2018, while the EU average was 0.31). For the current year, Fitch Ratings estimates a 9.5% drop in GDP for Italy – 8.2% for Europe. Austerity measures were imposed by the EU, and higher interest rates have been paid on the debt, in spite of a positive trade balance and 30 years of surplus of the primary budget balance.

Today’s news is the European Commission’s plan of a €750bn recovery fund, being a first attempt at instituting Eurobonds, that is, a common European debt, with the purpose of financing well-addressed investments. A taboo would thus be challenged, together with financial greed, provided that some ‘virtuous’ members of the Union, including those practicing fiscal dumping, will not continue to deny their consent.

Michele Cangiani

Professor of Economic Sociology
Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage
Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

Read the other essays on the Crisis in Southern Europe here: 

Maria Markantonatou, Greece
Michele Cangiani, Italy
Luis Enrique Alonso & Carlos J. Fernandez Rodríguez, Spain
Francisco Bozzano-Barnés, Spain
João Rodrigues, Portugal
César Rendueles, Spain
Antonio Palumbo, Italy