Has neoliberalism failed

"It's not the market that has failed, it's the state"

Sebastian Schipper

Since social transformation processes often prevail, accelerate or take place in the course of crises, a possible end to neoliberal forms of regulation is currently being discussed controversially at the level of society as a whole, and the question of whether the entrepreneurial city is losing its clear primacy as a reference point for urban development at the local level is being problematized (Brenner / Peck / Theodore 2010; Soureli / Youn 2009). Although there was some evidence of this from the end of 2008 to mid-2009, for example at the level of the German Association of Cities (Schipper / Belina 2009), one must now state that the neoliberal city will emerge stronger from the current global economic crisis. On the empirical basis of a discourse analysis of the debates in the city council (STVV) of Frankfurt am Main between September 2008 and May 2010, the question of why the entrepreneurial city has such a stability and hegemonic position despite the crisis should be answered below. The unbroken approval of urban elites for the neoliberal city arises - according to the thesis - from the fact that a broad spectrum of parties succeeds in interpreting the crisis in the context of neoliberal rationality or explaining its causes neoliberally.

The term neoliberalism is intended to denote specific government thinking and associated government practice, which are characterized by a specific transformation of statehood - and not, for example, by a weakening of the state. In contrast to liberalism, in neoliberalism market and competition do not appear to be immediately and naturally given when the state withdraws from the economy. Rather, they are understood as control mechanisms that cannot simply be left to their intrinsic laws, but must be constantly established and monitored by the state by means of indirect interventions at the level of the economic order. Second, since the logic of the market and competition is to be applied in principle to all areas of life - universities, individual lifestyle, government of cities, etc. - there is no longer an area of ​​the non-economic or an area that cannot be grasped in economic terms (Foucault 2004b, p. 171ff; Gertenbach 2008, p. 81f).

In the following, the term becomes relevant in two ways: On the one hand, to analyze the local discourse of political elites in Frankfurt regarding the causes of the current economic crisis and, on the other hand, to describe a transformation of local statehood that has been observed for around 20 years, which critical urban research calls it neoliberal , post-Fordist or entrepreneurial (Harvey 1989; Heeg / Rosol 2007). Although this is a crisis-induced, contradicting and unstable process that exacerbates social and spatial polarization tendencies (Brenner 2004: 262ff; Peck / Tickell 2002), the entrepreneurial city has so far been based on a very high level of active consent from urban elites. The entrepreneurial city is therefore necessarily based on a discursively constructed, quasi-natural-appearing order of knowledge or, more specifically, on a political rationality that has become hegemonic, according to which cities appear as reified competitive units in a global area of ​​competition (Meyer zu Schwabedissen / Miggelbrink 2005 ).

Crisis and hegemony of the neoliberal city

With the drop in gross domestic product of almost 5% (2009), which is unique for the Federal Republic of this magnitude, the necessary material condition for a major, secular crisis of regulation seems to exist in the sense of the regulation-theoretical understanding of the crisis (Görg 1994; Hirsch 1994). At the municipal level, the current crisis manifests itself firstly in the form of falling tax revenues and increasing debts of the municipal budgets and secondly through rising social spending and potentially a worsening of the situation on the labor market. The German Association of Cities, for example, expects a municipal record deficit of € 12.4 billion in 2010 and double-digit annual deficits by 2013. The main reasons for this are the municipal tax revenues, which fell by 10% in 2009 (including, in particular, the 17.4% decrease in trade tax revenues) and - albeit to a lesser extent - rising social spending. The municipalities' short-term cash advances - as a more or less reliable indicator of the increasing indebtedness of the cities - rose in 2009 alone by € 4 billion to an unprecedented € 33.8 billion (Deutscher Städtetag 1/2010: 1f).

The city of Frankfurt am Main is also directly affected by a drastic decline in trade tax income. Compared to the boom year 2007, these collapse by approx. 40% in 2009 from over € 1.6 billion to approx. € 1 billion (Stadtkammerei 2009: 27). However, the city has liquid reserves of around € 1 billion, which is why the budget can still be balanced until 2011 without significant cuts (City Treasurer Becker in STVV 10.12.2009: 32). So far, the crisis has hardly had any impact on the labor market, primarily due to the federal government's extension of short-time work benefits. The unemployment rate related to all civilian labor force in the city increases from September 2008 to March 2009 from 7.7% to 8.7%, but then gradually decreases again to 8.3% in March 2010 (Federal Employment Agency 2010a: 5). The same applies to the number of people affected by short-time work. This also increased drastically between September 2008 and March 2009 from 270 to over 9,000, but was reduced again to only 2,428 by January 2010 (Federal Employment Agency 2010b). On the other hand, if one follows previous forecasts for vacancy on the office property market, this could reach a new record of 19.1% in 2010 (Schwaldt 2010). After the proportion of vacant office space jumped to its previous high of 18.7% (2004) in the wake of the New Economy crisis and this fell only hesitantly to a still alarming 14.8% by 2007 (Dörry 2009: 36, 60 ), the vacancy rate rose again to 17.4% by 2009 (Schwaldt 2010). It remains to be seen to what extent the negative forecasts will come true and to what extent this trend will continue. In summary, the crisis has arrived in Frankfurt, albeit not as dramatically as in other municipalities.

A crisis of hegemony or a break with the entrepreneurial city, however, depends on whether the crisis of capital accumulation also leads to a crumbling of the hegemonic consensus and spreads to a crisis of the existing local mode of regulation. First of all, the assumption of regulation theory can be confirmed empirically that the "hour of hegemonic debate" (Hirsch 1994: 209) strikes. Similar to the debates at the general assembly of the 35th German Association of Cities in May 2009 in Bochum (Schipper / Belina 2009), a temporary uncertainty among the urban elite as well as an intense one can also be seen in relation to the city of Frankfurt, especially between November 2008 and March 2009 Observe the discussion of both the local consequences and the global and national causes of the crisis. [1]

In the city council, the crisis appears as a discursive event for the first time on September 25, 2008 in the course of the debate on the Mayor's Local Political Situation Report (STVV September 25, 2008), i.e. ten days after the US investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt had requested. While the governing parties CDU, Greens and FDP [2] disqualified this as a relatively insignificant financial crisis in the USA without any significant impact on the financial center of Frankfurt am Main, the opposition (SPD, LINKE, Free Voters-BFF) spoke differently Variants of a major economic crisis with serious consequences or even of a radical turning point. It was not until the beginning of November, and in particular in the context of the 'Local Political Situation Report' of March 26, 2009, that the governing parties also explicitly address the crisis and now refer to it as the “greatest financial and economic crisis that we have had in the world since the 1930s have seen "(Löwenstein, CDU in STVV 11/06/2008: 55). In order to limit the effects on the city of Frankfurt as far as possible in the face of the new threat, the previous government practice of the entrepreneurial city is adhered to and attempts are made to spread optimism and trust in order to emerge stronger from the crisis as a business location. Despite a temporary uncertainty, the political rationality of the competitive, entrepreneurial city in the local discourse will experience an extremely clear continuity from mid-2009 at the latest. One can even speak of a tightening, since both the government coalition and the opposition SPD (albeit a little less intensely) explicitly demand a strengthening of the identity as a business location and the expansion of competitiveness because of the crisis. Mayor Petra Roth emphasized in March 2009: “We are acting to counter the crisis, and we are also doing this in the interests of maintaining the competitiveness of the city of Frankfurt am Main in competition with other international cities. […] So it is up to us what we make of it ”(Mayor Roth, CDU in STVV 03/26/2009: 41). Similarly, the parliamentary group leader of the SPD, Klaus Oesterling, calls for an expansion of the local political commitment: "How big does the crisis have to be for you to act as Lord Mayor and form a powerful economic department in this city?" (Oesterling, SPD in STVV March 26, 2009: 56 ).

It must therefore be explained why, despite the economic crisis, the hegemonic consensus does not crumble and the existing local mode of regulation does not fall apart. In the following, it will be analyzed how the crisis is constructed as a social phenomenon in the local discourse and which interpretive patterns the causal stories are based on - especially with regard to the relationship between the market and the state. Specifically, the question is to what extent the crisis can be explained neoliberally. This is the only way to explain the adherence to the concept of the entrepreneurial city.

Neoliberal explanations of the crisis

If one only looks at the statements of the four parties that dominate local politics in Frankfurt (CDU, SPD, Greens, FDP), three categories of explanatory models for the causes of the crisis can be identified. Remarkably, all of these remain within a neoliberal rationality. [3] What all three have in common is that the capitalist mode of production is not viewed as a relative unit, but is divided into the antagonistic poles of state and market. The market represents everything positive and appears as an infallible, efficient control mechanism, which, however, in the spirit of neoliberal rationality, has to be cherished and cared for by the state through indirect interventions at the level of the economic order. Since this also includes the regulation of the financial markets, the state has failed in the face of the current financial and economic crisis and therefore bears sole responsibility. However, the causes that led to the failure of the state differ in the three interpretations of the crisis.

The pragmatic neoliberalism - the crisis as natural fate and technocratic problem

According to the dominant explanatory pattern, the crisis cannot be explained socially, politically, economically or psychologically, but rather as a quasi-natural fate. This position is taken by the Lord Mayor Petra Roth as well as parts of the CDU and parts of the Greens. Both Germany in general and the city of Frankfurt in particular appear here as victims of a catastrophic (natural) process. For example, one would now be faced with a "dark abyss" (Roth, CDU January 13, 2009) or have "the dark clouds that are now piling up over Germany and Frankfurt from the global crisis" (Roth, CDU in STVV March 26, 2009: 39) or to encounter a "meteorite of a relatively large size" racing towards the earth (CDU politician, interview 5). The basic tenor of this speaker position is that the crisis struck people as a disaster, so nothing and no one would be responsible for it, but that the changed situation must now be dealt with pragmatically. Since politicians are currently learning the right lessons from the catastrophe, both nationally and globally, by developing sensible regulatory and control mechanisms for international financial markets, the crisis appears to be an event that will soon be surmountable. Consequently, no far-reaching social or economic changes are to be expected.

The understanding of the crisis as a (natural) catastrophe as well as the irrefutable belief in the future improved regulation of the financial markets are based on specific representations of society, the state and politics. Neither politics nor society are seen as a field in which fundamental opposing interests are opposed, but both appear as abstract, principally harmonious units, which are characterized by a general, scientifically identifiable overall interest. For example, a CDU politician drafts “politics” as a unit which “honestly” tries to develop “reasonable and sustainable” concepts “for the good [...] of the people” (Interview 5). Consequently, it was not the social balance of power that pushed through a deregulation of the financial markets and thus induced the crisis, but rather politics as an abstract whole followed a society as a whole, "unreflected belief in the egg-laying woolly mischief" or in a "perpetomobile" (ibid.) By one has given oneself to the idea that money can simply be increased like that. Although this belief has led to a neglect of the real economy and to speculative excesses, it would have been represented in the well-meaning interest of the general public. Accordingly, the crisis is not to be understood as an effect of particular interests, ideologies or economic contradictions, but as a state failure. The state failed, however, not because of bad intentions, but because of factually incorrect assumptions and because of the structural impossibility of anticipating future need for regulation in advance. Economic innovations and dynamics basically have the potential of a speculative bubble, which the state cannot protect against a priori by setting regulations. In analogy to “fire protection” (ibid.), State action is only able to revise incorrect assessments in retrospect as a reaction to a new situation and to draw the right lessons from the disaster that has arisen. Since it is only now becoming clear a posteriori that the financial markets have not been properly looked after, neither any structural mechanism nor any specific person can be blamed for the crisis. In addition, when it comes to the regulation of the financial markets, one shouldn't go to the other extreme of excessive regulation: “I am also back to the question of how much state, then ultimately how much regulation. Here, too, we have to make sure that we don't go to the other extreme again… […] So to find a way that takes into account the fact that I also have to give people space to act, have ideas, to work. But we have to see that this also provides a manageable framework and an understandable framework and that this understandability is underpinned by it ”(ibid.). In line with a neoliberal rationality of governance, the state can govern not only too much by intervening directly in the market and thereby unnecessarily restricting the freedom of the individual, but also too little by allowing the market mechanism in its positive form due to a lack of regulatory containment Function is damaged.

The explanatory model that constructs the crisis as a fateful event is based on a neoliberal rationality of governance, because the market and competition per se appear as infallible control mechanisms that the fallible state must take care of through regulatory frameworks analogous to fire protection. In addition to optimizing the regulatory containment of the financial markets, it is therefore important to continue strengthening Germany and Frankfurt as a business location in order to emerge successfully from the crisis.

Neoliberalism out of conviction - "It is not the market that has failed, it is the state"

The explanatory model, according to which it was not the market, but the state per se that failed, appeared in the local discourse relatively late in early November 2008.This argumentation structure is represented by convinced and more or less openly professed neoliberals or by representatives of the social market economy in the sense of Freiburg ordoliberalism. Specifically, the FDP, parts of the CDU and parts of the Greens occupy this speaker position.

Five arguments can be identified to justify why the state and not the market failed and why the state was responsible for the crisis. Firstly, through regulatory errors, the state did not regulate too little, but sometimes too much and, above all, incorrectly, and secondly, the state banking supervision failed due to a lack of controls. Thirdly, it would not have been private banks, but above all state banks run by politicians that would have speculated. The CDU politician Michael zu Löwenstein sums up these three causal constellations as an example: “This financial crisis occurred because state regulation failed. The economic system that created our prosperity and the foundations for the possibility of social justice is the social market economy, not a laissez-faire liberalism. In any case, it was probably not too little regulation in Germany, but the wrong one. If someone wants to know what extensive regulation looks like, all they have to do is read the current Banking Act and the ordinances issued for it, big bang. So much regulation makes you sick. Our banking supervisory authorities overlooked the fact that these overregulated banks have invested billions of their assets in subsidiary companies off the balance sheet at high risk and also proudly raved about the great returns that can be earned there. If someone says that the nationalization of the banks is the remedy, you can guess three times who the speculators were in this business. […] That has nothing to do with the party political direction, but with the fact that politics in a bank has lost nothing, regardless of the politics ”(Löwenstein, CDU in STVV 06.11.2008: 57). In addition, fourthly, direct state intervention, for example on the US real estate market, would have set false incentives and thus created economic imbalances: “The financial crisis is not a crisis of the market economy or capitalism [...]. Anyone who claims such a thing is confusing cause and effect. The starting point for the financial crisis was government intervention in the American real estate market. For decades, it was the declared goal of politics in the USA to help citizens with poor credit ratings to buy their own homes ”(Rinn, FDP in the STVV November 6, 2008: 76). Finally, fifth, the US Federal Reserve pumped capital into the real estate market through low key interest rates and a policy of cheap money in order to implement the government program “House for Everyone” (ibid .: 77), thereby inducing massive amounts of bad loans and ultimately the speculative bubble.

The central element of the argument is that it was not the market that failed or would not function efficiently, but the state. Rather, the market acts as the motor of history because its effect produces extremely positive incentive structures and thus drives people to make efforts in the first place. The real problem is therefore (as with pragmatic neoliberalism) that the market cannot be left autonomously to its intrinsic laws, but the state bears the responsibility to regulate the market correctly and to control it accordingly. In this sense, correct regulation means in concrete terms that there is no intervention against market forces, but that, above all, care is taken to ensure that someone as a specific individual is always liable for economic action or bears the risk for economic transactions. The latter has been lifted by financial innovations and new techniques in the securitization of loans, for which the state is ultimately responsible (CDU politician, interview 10).

But why could such a state failure come about? In this regard, two different, but nevertheless complementary, ideas about the functioning of the state can be identified, with the second in particular differing significantly from pragmatic neoliberalism. On the one hand, the state appears - similar to the previous explanatory model - as an abstract being that, as an acting subject, has an autonomous competence to act. The market therefore represents, on the one hand, the positive, efficient, infallible and ultimately superior control mechanism, which, on the other hand, has to be regulated by the state as an independent, independent actor. While infallibility and everything positive are ascribed to the market, the state embodies a problematic, fallible entity that always runs the risk of either assuming excessive control competencies or of regulating too little. For example, a politician from the Greens posits: “You learn. It [the crisis, S. Sch.] Will be a confirmation that the free market or the market, not the free one, but that the market is good. When it is regulated, it is strong. But you have to be careful ”(Interview 8). The regulation of the financial markets has not been dismantled by the state, but new financial products have been developed in the field of the market without the help or influence of the state. These, in turn, would not be problematic in themselves (or perhaps an expression of an over-accumulation crisis), but rather were insufficiently regulated on the part of the state not out of “bad faith” (politicians of the Greens, Interview 8), but out of an incorrect risk assessment. As a result, interests or ideologies that have not been named, but rather the state's factually false but impartial belief that “all financial products can be brought onto the market in an uncontrolled manner” (ibid.), Are the cause of the current economic crisis. In retrospect, one could ultimately not blame anyone as a specific person for this. Instead, it is now a matter of correcting the mistakes, regulating the international financial markets according to clear, transparent rules and optimizing banking supervision. However, all direct state interventions going beyond this must be resolutely opposed for two reasons. On the one hand, false interventions of this kind, such as the stock exchange tax demanded by the SPD at federal level, not only create artificial competitive disadvantages for Germany and Frankfurt as a location, but, as state instruments, would not be able to do so in the face of international, electronic ones Direct control of capital flows in financial markets (Löwenstein, CDU in STVV March 26, 2009: 52). On the other hand, there would be no alternative to limiting state activity, because any direct state interventionism tends to result in a planned economy based on the GDR model in the long term: “The alternative to the social market economy would be the planned economy. As is well known, this has always led to national bankruptcy sooner or later. The state is not the better banker. […] However, the market economy only works with clear rules ”(Rinn, FDP in STVV 11/06/2008: 77). Similar to how the Freiburg school of ordoliberalism ultimately saw the danger of totalitarianism behind any growth in state power through economic interventions (Foucault 2004: 152ff), an automatism or a direct line of development of direct interventions by the state in the economic process - for example in the form of communal employment programs, which are referred to as the “communist election program” (Löwenstein, CDU in STVV 09/10/2009: 97) - drawn to the state-planned economy of the GDR.

The second variant stands out clearly from the state understanding of pragmatic neoliberalism. The state - or, strictly speaking, “politics” - appears here not only as an abstract, acting being, but alternatively also as a field or as a political market in which political actors maximize self-interest in the sense of public choice theories offer their political programs, which in turn are requested by voters according to their preferences. The state thus represents a political field which, analogous to the market, is determined by direct, individual self-interest. The self-interest of actors offering political concepts translates into the goal of maximizing voters' votes or the desire to be re-elected. Political programs, social balance of power, interests or political convictions and values ​​consequently play no or at most a subordinate role in political decision-making. In relation to the financial crisis, both Georg Bush jun. and Bill Clinton, under the pressure of re-election, exerted influence on the American real estate market in order to enable as many American voters with low credit ratings as possible to have the “American dream” of their own home (Green Party politician, interview 8; FDP politician, interview 9). As a consequence, this means that there is always the danger or the incentive that political actors "run after popular opinion" to maximize their (political) self-interest (CDU politicians, Interview 10) in order to win elections, and thereby get a factually wrong one , unreasonable policy enforced. The voter is therefore not perceived as a responsible sovereign, but rather as a constant risk that threatens to induce irrational and factually incorrect decision-making. To complement this, politics is conceived as a post-democratic field in which (fundamental) social conflicts are not expressed, but which should ideally be dominated by technocrats and experts as a place of public discussion and decision-making.

The determining, ontological foundation of this explanatory model and thus also the basis for the relationship between the state and the market is a special image of man. According to this, the "typical manager" just like "the rest of humanity" is by nature "selfish, stingy and selfish" (CDU politician, interview 10) or the "Raffkies" (senior executive of the economic development agency, interview 3) statistical always in the plural. [4] The bankers would therefore by no means be to blame for the crisis, but if at all then it would be “all of us” because we are all “basically [...] return-oriented” (politician of the Greens, Interview 8). An ahistorical, anthropological characteristic of the human being is constructed, which determines individual action independently of social conditions. Human egoism is not only asserted as an ahistorical, non-social constant, but at the same time also accentuated as a thoroughly desirable property and in no way morally disqualified, because ultimately, through the invisible hand of the market, everyone would ultimately benefit from individual self-interest.

Critical Neoliberalism - The crisis as an effect of 'neoliberal' ideology and a weakening of the state

The starting point for explaining the crisis as an effect of “neoliberal” ideology, which is mainly adopted by the SPD, is the statement that the crisis was triggered by an unregulated market and a lack of state control of the financial markets. In the context of this explanatory model, neither market and capitalism nor international financial markets per se appear to be problematic. Rather, the reason for the decoupling of the financial markets or for the 'getting out of control' of capitalism and for the lack of state control mechanisms is firstly identified as a basic social mood or a general trend and, secondly, a 'neoliberal' ideology, the protagonists of which are consistently the unregulated and preached uncontrolled market and the withdrawal of the state. Responsible for the latter are the main representatives of 'neoliberalism' who can be named as individuals and who now instead of giving “neoliberal window sermons” should finally “come to their senses in terms of economic policy” (Oesterling, SPD in STVV 25.09.2008: 47) should: “Dear colleague Frank , Within the Frankfurt CDU [...] you are the main exponent of a certain political direction [...] which in recent years has always advocated a consistently neoliberal course. They were the ones [...] who pleaded for the state to withdraw. You were the one who always propagated the unbound market economy in your speeches in this House and at the CDU party congress. What has happened to it now? It is the state - nothing against the market economy or capitalism - that is now saving capitalism from bankruptcy. [...] Hundreds of billions of taxpayers' money must now be raised to repair the errors that an unregulated market has produced. There was a lack of control here - […]. And there was a lack of control because there was this ideological position on the uncontrolled and uncontrolled effect of the market. The market is important, but it needs government risk limitation. […] Here we have to set framework conditions, and that is the task we are faced with ”(ibid .: 46).

In addition to the 'neoliberal' ideologues, a general mood is responsible for the deregulation of the financial markets, the weakening of the state and thus also for the current crisis. From this point of view, long-term political development fluctuates quasi-automatically in the form of cyclical sequences and almost historical regularity between multi-year trends of "left" regulation (such as the New Deal under Roosevelt) and multi-year trends of "right" deregulation (such as under Thatcher and Reagan ). The increased tendency in the 'neoliberal' direction since the beginning of the 1990s would also have been reinforced by the collapse of the Eastern bloc, because the state was mistakenly viewed as “fundamentally evil” in contrast to the free market (SPD politician, Interview 7). But if the state succeeds in setting the right framework conditions and distinguishing itself from an excessive trend towards deregulation, a crisis-free capitalism in the form of a state-embedded market economy is also possible in principle. In addition, such third-way capitalism embodies the only desirable and ultimately without alternative form of society between a state-planned economy on the one hand and a completely unregulated laissez-faire capitalism on the other. For example, a leading SPD politician put it: “Well, I don't think it's about putting the market economy out of action, […]. So the state planned economy has collapsed for good reasons and it cannot be that the state now prescribes the individual products, generates the individual products, but it just has to set framework conditions. And just as he sets emission standards, I think he must also set restrictions for the financial sector ”(ibid.).

The image of man is also decisive in this explanatory model. For example, a leading SPD politician postulates that crises cannot be completely prevented "because people [...] have not changed in the last 2000 years, and they will probably not change as structurally in the next 2000 years" ( Interview 7). Ontologically, the human being is seen as an ahistorical and unsocial being who, due to his natural endowment - and not as a subject that is produced by social conditions - tends to greed. This, in turn, is understood as the unchangeable mainspring that potentially leads to economic excesses. In the last instance, the argumentative basis for explaining financial crises is - under the ceteris paribus assumption of a lack of state regulation - the human inclination to egoism and greed, which is defined as an anthropological and natural constant. Both translate - in contrast to the conception of man by convinced neoliberals - not automatically in perfectly functioning markets, because the individual individuals do not tend to develop rational expectations. Rather, they follow the theory of adaptive expectations in their economic behavior, that is, they project existing trends unbroken into the future and are also subject to a herd instinct or “collective psychosis”, especially in boom phases; which, both historically with regard to the great tulip mania in the 17th century and currently in investment banking, led to a dance around the “golden calf” (ibid.). If it were possible to prevent such processes through state regulation and banking supervision, a stable, crisis-free capitalism would also be conceivable.

Remarkably, it turns out that the explanatory model, which understands the crisis as an expression and consequence of 'neoliberal' ideology, must itself be described as a neoliberal crisis interpretation.The only criticism is a completely unregulated market, i.e. not neoliberalism, but classic laissez-faire liberalism. [5] Neither the financial market-dominated accumulation regime nor the market and competition mechanism as such or its results, for example in the form of material inequality, are explicitly criticized. Despite all anti-neoliberal rhetoric, paradoxically, the crisis is not only explained neoliberally in this variant, but also consistently neoliberal strategies are derived to overcome the crisis. The market and competition should continue to function as the central and legitimate control mechanisms that the state must not disrupt through direct interventions in the economic process. However, the state must set the right framework conditions in analogy to emission standards so that the market and competition can develop their own beneficial laws and are not damaged or canceled in their functions by monopolies or, as in the case of the financial markets, for example by socializing losses. The market should therefore not be left to its intrinsic legality as an autonomous sphere, but must be constantly monitored and actively looked after, which implies, for example, a functioning banking supervision and the regulation of financial transactions.

Two aspects can be emphasized as the reason for this misunderstanding, which at first glance is paradoxical. First, the apparent confusion of terms stems from the fact that the meaning of the term neoliberalism is extremely vague and poorly fixed. In addition to its use as an analytical category to distinguish it from liberalism, it is also used as a political battle term. This apparently leads to the fact that, astonishingly, neoliberal explanations for the crisis can be presented in the form of a criticism of 'neoliberalism'. Second, this explanatory model - like the two previous ones - is based on a very simple and analytically problematic understanding of the state and the market. Both are understood as separate and opposite poles, with the state having the central task of ensuring the functionality of the market by setting surrounding framework conditions. However, the fact that the state is constantly present in the market as the guarantor of private property and personal freedom and that both are co-constitutively related to one another in an interrelationship seems wrong here as a quantifiable, antagonistic relationship, whereby a strengthening of one means the weakening of the other. The deregulation of the financial markets is therefore not discussed as a program implemented by a strong state and made possible in the first place by the state, but as a weakening of the state. This succeeds in that state activity is assessed exclusively on the basis of its quantitative scope, i.e. the qualitative transformation of the state is interpreted unilaterally as a quantitative weakening. By abstracting both the social character and the quality of state activity, the state per se becomes the positive pole of risk limitation and the guarantor of social stability.


In the course of the current crisis, the “hour of hegemonic conflict” (Hirsch 1994: 209) does indeed strike, but after a brief period of uncertainty, the entrepreneurial city remains the central point of reference for local government. The unbroken active approval of the Frankfurt political elite for this concept can be explained by the fact that it is possible to interpret the crisis across a broad political spectrum with the help of neoliberal explanatory models and, accordingly, to create meaning with regard to the 'correct' governance of the city and a disturbance to prevent previously hegemonic rationalities. This, in turn, may have a lot to do with the fact that actors in local politics and administration see themselves as managers of the Stadt company through years of discursive invocations and business management models based on NPM (see Lebuhn in this issue).


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[1] The empirical basis of the following statements are the word-logged, monthly debates of the Frankfurt City Council (STVV) between September 2008 and May 2010 as well as eleven expert interviews that were conducted in summer 2009 with politicians and senior administrative employees.

[2] Officially, the city of Frankfurt has been governed by a coalition of CDU and Greens since 2006, but the FDP is involved in government responsibility, for example in the form of magistrate posts.

[3] In addition to the explanatory models for the crisis, which remain tied to a neoliberal rationality, a number of alternative interpretations can also be identified. When the two most influential ones stand out among them critical of capitalism Keynesianism (LEFT) as well as the right-wing idealism (BFF, Republican). However, neither has (so far) been able to shake the hegemony of the entrepreneurial city - be it from an emancipatory or reactionary perspective - or to initiate social disputes.

[4] “It's always best to test this on yourself. No matter what. If you pick up the 500 € note and give it back straight away or you think stupid that he has lost it; good for me or something. Everyone has to decide for themselves, but statistically it turns out that everyone thinks of themselves first, "(Senior Employee of Economic Development, Interview 3).

[5] In contrast to neoliberalism, liberalism actually only assigns the state the function of night watchman, in that state activity only has to protect personal freedom and private property and the exercise of government must be limited internally due to the constant danger of governing too much . With liberalism, however, it is inconceivable that the state can govern too little.

This article was published in line no.83, September 2010