From the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, a magnificent reckoning with how and why the marriage between democracy and capitalism is coming undone, and what can be done to reverse this terrifying dynamic
Martin Wolf has long been one of the wisest voices on global economic issues. He has rarely been called an optimist, yet he has never been as worried as he is today. Liberal democracy is in recession, and authoritarianism is on the rise. The ties that ought to bind open markets to free and fair elections are threatened, even in democracy’s heartlands, the United States and England. Around the world, powerful voices argue that capitalism is better without democracy; others argue that democracy is better without capitalism. This book is a forceful rejoinder to both views. Even as it offers a deep, lucid assessment of why this marriage has grown so strained, it makes clear why a divorce of capitalism from democracy would be a calamity for the world. They need each other even if they find it hard to life together. For all its flaws, argues Wolf, democratic capitalism remains far and away the best system for human flourishing. But something has gone seriously awry: the growth of prosperity has slowed, and the division of its fruits between the hypersuccessful few and the rest has become more unequal. The plutocrats have retreated to their bastions, where they pour scorn on government’s ability to invest in the public goods needed to foster opportunity and sustainability. But the incoming flood of autocracy will rise to overwhelm them, too, in the end. Citizenship is not just a slogan or a romantic idea; it’s the only idea that can save us, Wolf argues. Nothing has ever harmonized political and economic freedom better than a shared faith in the common good. This wise and rigorously fact-based exploration of the epic story of the dynamic between democracy and capitalism concludes with the lesson that our ideals and our interests not only should align, but must do so, for everyone’s sake. Democracy itself is now at stake.
About the Author
Martin Wolf is associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, London. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2000 for services to financial journalism. Wolf won the Overseas Press Club of America’s prize for Best Commentary in 2013 and the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Gerald Loeb Awards. He was a member of the UK’s Independent Commission on Banking in 2010–11. Wolf is the author of The Shifts and the Shocks: What We’ve Learned—and Have Still to Learn—from the Financial Crisis.
“[A] highly informed and intelligent critique of the global economy.” —Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“Martin Wolf—the accomplished, levelheaded chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, and first-name-basis-friendly affiliate of the world’s leading finance ministers and central bankers—is not kidding around. His new book . . . is steeped in an uncommonly clear-eyed awareness about the fragility of civilization . . . The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism is an essential read for its articulation of the perilous crossroads at which the future of enlightened liberal civilization now stands . . . A tour de force.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Among business and financial journalists, there has never been a doubt that Martin Wolf is at the top of our heap. Over a career that now spans 35 years, there is nobody better read, better sourced or more insightful than the longtime economic commentator for the Financial Times. Wolf is the first person you turn to during a financial crisis, a thoughtful and generous colleague and the gold standard against which the rest of us are judged . . . Unlike many progressives, Wolf’s battle cry is not to tear down institutions and topple those who run them. Rather, it is to demand that his fellow elitists make good on the responsibility that goes with their privilege.” –The Washington Post
“Martin Wolf has been an incisive commentator on economics and politics for a long time. This book is an excellent and thought-provoking synthesis of his views on democratic capitalism and how to fix it.” —Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve
“Martin Wolf brings together many decades’ worth of thought and analysis into this superb synthesis. An important guide for anyone seeking answers to the most difficult questions of our time.” —Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic staff writer and author of Twilight of Democracy
“Martin Wolf is our wisest, most acute, and most experienced commentator. He has long been an optimist, but no more. He believes that today’s market economy is no longer compatible with a stable liberal democracy. As Plato long ago warned, insecurity and fear can be the gateways to tyranny. Wolf’s recommendations are smart and sensible and perhaps not too late. A must read for both optimists and pessimists.” —Sir Angus Deaton, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
“Martin Wolf is one of the deepest thinkers of our times and his latest book is a must read! He brilliantly analyzes the causes of the current crisis of democratic capitalism and presents the reforms needed to successfully rejuvenate it. He rightly calls for a new alliance of reformed democratic capitalist states to protect global peace, inclusive prosperity, and the planet against plutocratic populism and tyranny. Hopefully, his words will be carefully read and heeded.” —Nouriel Roubini, professor, New York University
“Martin Wolf is a great humanist and a sharp analytical mind. He unfurls here a bracing indictment of democratic capitalism and an inspiring defense of it. To defend the values of freedom and dignity, democracy and capitalism must both be reformed. A necessary book—and a guide—for our times.” —Daniel Ziblatt, professor, Harvard University, and coauthor of How Democracies Die
“The arrival of this book could not be timelier as the global economy darkens further. Who better than Martin Wolf, with his masterful knowledge of history and understanding of economics, to identify the twin threats of predatory capitalism and demagogic politics and to plot a narrow corridor to escape? It takes someone with a knowledge of the entire forest to isolate the rot at the base of the trees.” —Carmen M. Reinhart, professor of economics, Harvard University
“Martin Wolf has written the definitive account of what ails capitalism and democracy. This staggeringly erudite and beautifully written book is sure to become required reading for anybody who wants to understand how democratic capitalism slid into a deep crisis, why it is worth rescuing, and how to do so.” —Yascha Mounk, professor, Johns Hopkins University, and author of The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure