Austerity from the Left: Social Democratic Parties in the Shadow of the Great Recession

Björn Bremer

16. Mai 2023

MPIfG Book


Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023
304 pages
ISBN 978-0-19-287221-0 (hardback)

» Publisher’s page


Austerity became the predominant fiscal policy response to the Great Recession in Europe. After a brief period of “emergency Keynesianism” from 2008 to 2010, even the center-left abandoned plans for deficit spending and accepted austerity as the dogma of the day. In Austerity from the Left, Björn Bremer explains how this came about and explores its political consequences, combining qualitative and quantitative methods and drawing on a wide range of empirical evidence to study both the demand- and supply-side of politics. Based on this evidence, the author argues that a complex interaction of electoral and ideational pressures pushed social democratic parties towards orthodox fiscal policies. As government debt became a taboo following the Greek sovereign debt crisis, social democratic parties endorsed austerity to increase their perceived economic competence and fiscal credibility. This decision was legitimized by economic ideas inspired by supply-side economics, which had become popular among social democrats at the end of the twentieth century. Although the book shows that social democratic austerity was not inevitable, powerful feedback effects of the Third Way thus trapped and divided the center-left during the crisis. This undermined the ability of social democratic parties to oppose austerity and eventually contributed to their electoral crisis in the shadow of the Great Recession.


1 Introduction

2 Social Democratic Austerity: Theoretical Framework

3 The Programmatic Response of Social Democratic Parties to the Great Recession

4 Attitudes towards Austerity: Analysing the Public’s Debt Aversion during the Eurozone Crisis

5 Public Opinion Regarding Fiscal Consolidation in the Face of Trade-offs: Evidence from Survey Experiments

6 The Fiscal Policies of the British Labour Party in Times of Crisis: Where Have All the Keynesians Gone?

7 The Fiscal Policies of the German SPD in Times of Crisis: The Swabian Housewife of the Left?

8 The Electoral Effects of Social Democratic Austerity

9 Conclusion


Björn Bremer

Björn Bremer is a senior researcher in Comparative and International Political Economy at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. He obtained his PhD from the European University Institute in 2019, and his research lies at the intersection of comparative politics, political economy, and political behaviour.

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