, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 501-517

Die Finanzmärkte und die Mittelschichten: der kollektive Buddenbrooks-Effekt

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The article views the current financial crisis from the background of long term structural socio-economic changes in advanced industrial societies. Central points are the rise of the middle classes during the second half of the 20th century, the accumulation of financial wealth in the middle classes in combination with a continuing high and even increasing concentration of financial assets at the level of the top rich, and the advance of pension and investment funds as a new type of collective actors at global financial markets. These changes go parallel with an economic development which is characterized by increasing instability, declining growth rates and financial crises. The paper tries to clarify the interconnections between these phenomena in the framework of a multi-level analysis which culminates in the model of a “collective Buddenbrooks-effect”: A structural upward mobility of society will lead to an increasing imbalance at capital markets, since on the one hand the volume of financial assets searching for profitable investment will rise, whereas on the other hand the social reservoir of solvent debtors and promising investment opportunities will decline. Therefore, advanced industrial economies are characterized by a bias towards capital export and excessive financial liquidity, with the well known consequences of low economic growth rates and the danger of speculative bubbles at the global capital markets. The middle classes who originally benefitted from the post-war prosperity, are negatively affected too. The author argues that the current crisis cannot be understood sufficiently without taking account of these structural socio-economic backgrounds.

gegenwärtig „Scholar-in-Residence“ am Max Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung in Köln; Mitherausgeber des Leviathan
Überarbeitete Version einer Vorlesung, die ich auf dem 34. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS) in Jena (6.-10.10.2008) gehalten habe.