ArticlePDF Available


This essay explores what insights about dealing with a pandemic can be learned from political economy. We argue that epidemiology and political economy share many theoretical and policy challenges. Experts in both fields face similar dilemmas in positioning themselves vis-à-vis the state and society, while epidemiologic and market processes are only partially controllable. A key similarity is that both disciplines have to deal with incomplete and dispersed knowledge and with decision-making in the face of radical uncertainty. In this perspective, the cultivation of learning processes for all players in society to live with risks and to constantly readjust trade-offs constitutes the key channel out of the Corona pandemic. This also implies that heterogenous groups learn and adjust differently, and that experts should seek to be part of this learning process. We also address the challenges of states of exception, especially their tendency to absolutize one type of risk in society above all others.
Rivista internazionale di Politica, Filosofia e Diritto
ISSN 2724-0177 V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
ABSTRACT: This essay explores what insights about dealing with a pandemic can be
learned from political economy. We argue that epidemiology and political
economy share many theoretical and policy challenges. Experts in both fields face
similar dilemmas in positioning themselves vis-à-vis the state and society, while
epidemiologic and market processes are only partially controllable. A key
similarity is that both disciplines have to deal with incomplete and dispersed
knowledge and with decision-making in the face of radical uncertainty. In this
perspective, the cultivation of learning processes for all players in society to live
with risks and to constantly readjust trade-offs constitutes the key channel out of
the Corona pandemic. This also implies that heterogenous groups learn and adjust
differently, and that experts should seek to be part of this learning process. We also
address the challenges of states of exception, especially their tendency to
absolutizes one type of risk in society above all others.
KEYWORDS: Societal Learning Risk Coordination Civil Society Economic
TABLE OF CONTENTS: 1. Introduction. 2. Controllability, Hayekian Knowledge
Problems and Knightian Uncertainty. 3. State of Exception, Risk Trade-Offs and
Learning to Imagine the Future. 4. Coordination, Points of Orientation and the
Cultivation of Norms.
1. Introduction
We all know in the abstract that the social scientist is part of the
society which he or she is studying. But during the extraordinary
times of the global Corona pandemic through which we have lived
for nearly a full year now, that abstract fact has become very
concrete. It is therefore important to acknowledge at the outset that
we write from the double perspective of citizens (of Germany and
the Netherlands respectively) and social scientists. The pandemic is a
reminder to social scientists that their activity is fundamentally
different from that of the natural scientist. It is fundamentally
different because we as social scientists are also studying ourselves
and not just the external world (Machlup, 1961: 176-177). As
scientists we feel the obligation to explain what is happening, what
* Stefan Kolev is professor of political economy at the University of Applied Sciences
Zwickau, Germany.
Erwin Dekker is assistant professor in cultural economics at the Erasmus University
Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
the nature of the risks are, and to explain how individuals, groups,
societies and governments adapt to the new challenges. However, in
sense of the new situation we find ourselves in. To understand how
we can deal as citizens with the new risks, how we should conduct
ourselves, and ultimately also how we feel about the pandemic. This
interest in understanding is not purely scientific, but also civic.
One might of course question whether a pandemic is a social
phenomenon at all. Initially the pandemic was analyzed and
controlled by epidemiologists, but quickly it became apparent that
social science had much to contribute: The way fear affects behavior,
how emergency policies impact democratic systems and how we
should trade-off safety and economic activity are clearly social
science questions. We do not pretend to possess any special expertise
on the natural properties of the virus instead, we focus our essay
on the virus as an object of inquiry for the social scientist or, more
specifically, for the cultural scientist in the tradition of subjectivism
as developed and practiced by Max Weber. How we and our fellow
citizens experience the virus, what meanings we give to it, how we
interact in the media and the political domain and what substantial
transformations of economy and society result from our interactions
that is the focus of our analysis. In addition, we deliberate about
the normative implications a liberal citizen like ourselves can draw
from these politico-economic transformations for the months and
years to come.
In all honesty, when the pandemic started in Europe in March
2020, we had difficulties to distinguish a virologist from an
epidemiologist. And yet, quite soon we recognized many similarities
between epidemiologists and social scientists. While virologists seem
to be closer to the ideal of a natural scientist, epidemiologists
reminded us of ourselves: political economists. We learned that
epidemiology, much like economics, is a discipline that often works
in service of the state. We learned that epidemiologists speak in
terms of policy interventions, for which they have to make
assumptions about human behavior. We learned that different
epidemiologists make rather different assumptions about human
behavior (and rationality), at the deepest level they work with
different anthropologies and these different perspectives result in
different schools within the discipline of epidemiology. Some of
them put more trust in a bottom-up approach
communal capabilities to self-organize in the groups of civil society,
while others rather subscribe to a top-down approach, i.e. on the
that in the historiography of prominent pandemics, diverging
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
narratives about the decisive tools to defeat these pandemics are still
competing within epidemiology. Much like economists are still
debating the cause of the crisis that started in 2007, and even the
causes of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
But more than anything else, we realized that epidemiologists
operate in a world of radical uncertainty, where knowledge is
inevitably dispersed and incomplete, and where decisions must be
made anyhow. Those analogies have convinced us that it is worth
exploring two central themes that are shared between political
economy and epidemiology. First, the degree to which the world can
be controlled directly relates to the question of how to deal with
uncertainty. Second, how to best deal with emergencies or crises
which are directly related to the idea of the state of exception, a
notion often invoked by politicians during this pandemic. We
construct these two central themes as topoi around which a number
of related questions gravi
the possibilities of cultivating an environment conducive to
individual and societal learning under uncertainty, and on the
prerequisites of coordination between individuals and societal
groups which is possible even in the face of radical uncertainty.
2. Controllability, Hayekian Knowledge Problems and Knightian
Is the virus a controllable object? In our view, this is the
fundamental question behind everything which has happened since
the outburst of the pandemic. A pandemic is first and foremost a
natural disaster. In the age of modernity, science both natural and
social has often defined itself and derived its legitimacy from the
capability to control the powers of nature and society, to shield
humanity from these powers, and ideally to harness them for the
benefit of humanity. But what is the domain of controllable
phenomena? Even though this domain tends to expand in the course
of scientific progress, at any point of time it has its limits. To begin
with, we are confronted with a series of knowledge problems (Hayek,
1945) once a new disaster hits humanity, and the knowledge problem
poses itself to all players in society, from the scholarly expert to the
policy-maker and the citizen. Only when we know what we are
fighting, can we assess whether this new threat is containable by the
tools available to various players in society. In the current pandemic,
the knowledge problem hit different countries in different ways.
While Asian countries had recent experience with large-scale
epidemics like SARS, in European or North American countries the
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
knowledge problem was much more severe, not only for policy-
makers and citizens, but also for the experts.
Uncertainty pertained not merely to the properties of the virus,
how severe and contagious it was, but also to the ways in which
players were likely to respond to the crisis. The response of different
groups in society, moreover, depends on various parameters in the
behavior of other groups, and in addition they were unlikely to
remain stable. New knowledge about the virus as well as the
behavior of others in response to the virus would give rise to new
reactions, and so on. Economists are well aware of the difficulties of
making policy in such situations. The famous critique of economic
models by Robert Lucas drove home the point that changes in policy
cannot be modelled as one-time interventions, but themselves give
rise to new types of behavior (Lucas, 1976). Citizens do not passively
accept policies, but also use them as signals and as new knowledge
based on which they constantly change and readjust their own
behavior. To give just one very simple example, a virus will spread
much faster through a population unaware of the virus. On the other
hand, when everyone is reacting with great caution to a highly
contagious virus, some individuals will feel that they have little to
fear since streets, workplaces and parks are nearly abandoned
anyhow. The moment that governments, as important players in any
society, respond to the virus, or warn about its dangers, this warning
itself is likely to alter the behavior of citizens, who spontaneously
will start to take precautions. Or, to put it somewhat more critically,
even without official lockdowns there were enormous changes in
behavior which people made based on what they learned about new
dangers. Mutual feedbacks across the newly generated sets of
knowledge are aptly outlined by referring to the Lucas critique, so
that any precise predictions of the trajectory of the pandemic has
been made close to impossible by the knowledge problems and the
interdependence of parameters in the reactions of various groups in
In the pandemic, a subjectivist perspective is particularly relevant
since the usage of tools, and the assessment of their power by various
players in society, clearly comes with Knightian uncertainty (Knight,
1921). Citizens, entrepreneurs, religious communities and policy-
future to put faith in, and unsure about the valuation of relevant
costs and benefits. In this darkness, individuals often fall back on
their general worldviews and values: Whether someone reacted to
the virus with total denial or saw it as an existential threat to society
political beliefs. Opinion surveys for different countries during
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
recent months have indicated that the values which players impute
on a policy tool like the lockdown correlates strongly with their
political values, so citizens who are more interventionistically
inclined in terms of economic policy also opt for more severe Corona
policies (Gollwitzer et al., 2020; Newport, 2020; Padilla, Hípola,
2020). This reinforcement does not only happen for the way people
respond, but at least in the short-run also for how they evaluate the
actions of others. In that sense a pandemic is likely to reinforce
trends, divisions and polarizations already present in society.
Data about Sweden demonstrate that despite the very limited
political interventions in the spring, individuals adapted their
behavior in very similar ways to what happened in other countries.
People travelled less, stayed more seldom in hotels, started working
from home and went to restaurants and bars less often. Some also
kept their children at home (Karlson et al., 2020; Ludvigsson, 2020).
In other countries with officially strong lockdown policies like
countries in Central and Eastern Europe, patterns changed less than
expected and behavior came back to pre-pandemic patterns quite
early. A similar heterogeneity could be observed in different age
groups, who subjectively judged that they were less at risk, or the
rules did not equally apply to them. Finally, citizens in more rural
and more urban areas have also come to different assessments of the
efficacy of measures and of the various sorts of risks, making nation-
wide policies difficult to devise in ways in which they would be
universally seen as legitimate in the cities and in the countryside.
This leads us to our case for a decentralized, federalist discovery
procedure for adequate measures which we base on the realization
that such a mode of policy-making is conducive to the fast
accumulation of knowledge generated in the numerous polities
which try out different sets of measures. For example, the city of
Tübingen in the state of Baden-Württemberg devised its own
containment strategy which focused specifically on protecting the
elderly citizens. Tools like the extensive usage of fast tests in nursing
homes, free distribution of professional masks and special
transportation procedures for the elderly led to steadily declining
infection figures in recent months, so that the strategy is discussed
nationwide and is likely to be emulated by other cities in Baden-
Württemberg and beyond (Sporrer 2020).
To sum up, the prevalence of Hayekian knowledge problems and
Knightian uncertainty makes the aim of controlling a natural disaster
difficult. When asked the questions whether we know what we are
fighting, and whether we have the adequate tools to fight it, it is difficult
to answer with a clear-
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
humility on the part of the policy-makers, we suggest that any good
response is aware of its own limitations. As Prime Minister Mark
Rutte argued during the first months of the pandemic, we are
making 100% of the decisions with at most 50% of the relevant
knowledge. Since the spring of 2020 there has been, therefore, an
enormous set of barriers to the search for the right response to the
pandemic. Knowledge about the dangers of the virus was
incomplete, the interactions between different groups in society was
unclear a rather complex coordination issue and finally the
subjective valuation of both the impact of policy tools and the risks
of the virus have been far from perfectly known. And this has
important political consequences: Above all, if we agree that
controllability of the natural disaster is not perfectly given due to
knowledge problems and uncertainty, our first response can never be
to either blame or thank policy-makers for what they have done, or
have not done. A better question to ask is if they facilitated learning,
adaptation, and if they realized the extent of the uncertainty that the
new threat brought with it.
3. State of Exception, Risk Trade-Offs and Learning to Imagine the
As outlined in Section 2, at the beginning of the pandemic the
level of knowledge in all relevant groups both regarding the
unsatisfactory, diverging and fragmented, so the notion of
by many commentators and put into effect in several European
countries was a rather understandable reaction on the part of policy-
makers. Exceptional it certainly was. Most recently, the Prime
Minister of Saxony Michael Kretschmer announced the hard
required in such moments and this care is required from all three
types of players outlined above, i.e. the experts, policy-makers and
citizens. In this section, we center our analysis around this notion
and underscore the importance of societal learning, and of a political
vision of imagining the post-pandemic future, for making the state of
exception a useful and, above all, a credibly temporary state of affairs.
The past months we have experienced an explosion of new and
not-so-new conspiracy theories that have what we call a
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
spread such theories assume, explicitly or implicitly, evil intentions
on the part of the policy-makers and the experts around them. In the
light of such views, policy-making becomes exceptionally difficult.
But even if we do the very opposite and assume that experts, policy-
makers and citizens alike are benevolent and motivated by motives
in line with general welfare, the logic of a state of exception generates
patterns of thought and discourse which can be at odds with the
nature of democratic deliberation. Let us use as an example a
German Bundestag MP, Konstantin von Notz, who in the early phase
of the pandemic used a curious notion: In a Tweet from April 25, he
2020). We cannot know whether he simply meant people who deny
exception context is worth reflecting on. In our view, modern society
as opposed to the pre-modern community dominated by the will of
its patriarchal figures is precisely about allowing individuals to
have not just different worldviews, but also different preferences
about the very diverse risks which characterize the life of the
individual in modern society. Using again our subjectivist
perspective helps to make clear that the valuation of the risks which
constantly surround us varies across individuals, and at any point of
time individuals are forced to weigh the various risks against each
other, and to think in risk trade-offs. Of course, a state of exception
constitutes a special, distinctly non-normal situation. But what
should be eliminated in this situation and what not when compared
to normal times, is a debate which is often traced back to Carl
ences (Schmitt,
1932). So, can we really eliminate risk trade-offs in the pandemic and
This is not only a historical or theoretical, but a highly practical
question. As most tools needed to handle the pandemic are scarce
and only slowly augmentable, eliminating risk trade-offs is
practically impossible. For example, when a hospital decides to
divert its intensive care unit beds from an oncology ward to patients
infected by the Corona virus, it postpones cancer operations and by
that readjusts its priorities regarding the risks across the two patient
groups. Or when government implements a lockdown, it prioritizes
the risks of being infected by the virus over the risks of suffering
mental health issues because of social isolation in the lockdown.
which we address in the next section is not whether such a constant
thinking in trade-offs and struggling with their weighing and
readjusting is required, but rather who should be entitled to
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
-à-vis the risks which already
accompanied us.
Diverse and changing risks are part and parcel of the logic of
modern society, and economists have something to say here.
Economics as science emerged parallel to modern society over the
past 250 years precisely as the social science focusing on thinking in
trade-offs and assessing risks. We hope that the pandemic will have
re of our modern
society. Such deliberations both on the macro level of society and on
democratic nature. At any point of time, including states of
emergency, we have to live with all these risks. So, when a new risk
emerges, it may certainly be prioritized vis-à-vis the old ones, but it
cannot be absolutized or else we threaten the nature of our
democratic deliberations.
However, learning to live with the risks in a state of exception
only happens if citizens see the state of exception as legitimate. Those
who contest the legitimacy of the state of exception are perhaps best
understood as feeling silenced, or not taken seriously. The official
response to their requests to demonstrate or publicly express their
views only reinforces that idea. Any public debate has its limits, and
we are not suggesting that we should take the conspiracy theories
themselves serious, but we should take those social groups serious.
A democratic polity should always seek to be inclusive, to allow for
voice of relativizers, dissenters and radicals, as much as reasonably
possible. Even though dialogue today may be exceedingly difficult or
an even more daunting obstacle for democracy when a next crisis
An additional apprehension which we observe in our admittedly
liberal-dominated bubble refers not to the motivation of policy-
makers, but to the possible nature of the effects of current measures.
institutional framework of society, as has been the case in earlier
states of exception like the war on terror. These risks of perpetuating
the state of exception measures, especially limitations of civil liberties
like curfews, police surveillance and the repression of
demonstrations, appear to be rather plausible threats to individual
liberty in countries where the rule of law is already under attack like
We believe that policy-makers can do something more to convince
the citizens of the benevolence of their intentions, as well as the
legitimacy and temporariness of the state of exception. The crucial
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
point is not only transparency of what is being done, but also
communicating a vision of the world after the state of exception. Jens
n be applied to what the
policy-makers, in their role of leaders, have to offer in the
deliberations about the meaning and temporariness of the measures.
In countries with a sufficiently high level of trust in the political
order (Berggren, Jordahl, 2006; Berggren et al., 2008), such visions
can show concrete and credible perspectives for the near future and
thus prevent the bond between policy-makers and citizens from
disconnecting during the state of exception.
4. Coordination, Points of Orientation and the Cultivation of
So far, we have outlined the necessity to live during the pandemic
with Knightian uncertainty, and to relativize risks and imagine the
future despite the state of exception. But a crucial politico-economic
question remains to be addressed: Which figures have become the
between policy-makers and citizens on risk and the post-pandemic
future disconnect for so many, as visible for example by the recent
The Weberian scholar Ludwig Lachmann developed the idea of
-40) which we believe is
the threats posed by the virus. Institutions which serve as points of
orientation are essential for the coordination of individuals in the
constant readjustments of their plans in economy and society, and
the recurrence of these readjustments during the pandemic has been
one of its most important characteristics. In the political domain
more specifically, points of orientation help individuals to form their
opinions on new sets of news which are discussed and whose risk
has to be reassessed.
The two most important practical solutions to stop the spread of
the virus are best understood as such points of orientation. The first
of these is the norm that social distancing of 1.5 meters is advisable.
This is a rule that cannot be fully enforced, but depends crucially on
mutual acceptance of the norm and the informal enforcement, or
rather reminder, of the norm by dispersed individuals in society.
Governments can only recommend distancing as such a point of
orientation and hope it is adopted widely. Because it quite radically
upsets social interactions in many societal domains, it might have to
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
be reinforced by related norms: for example, the elbow or fist as the
alternative to the handshake. The compliance to the norm is mostly
left to those local organizations where distancing has to take place,
be it in private supermarkets and restaurant or public universities,
and compliance relies on the adoption of individuals as well as on
the credibility of the threat by public authorities to police the norm in
case the local organizations fail to implement them.
The other practical solution is that of mask-wearing, which again
is mostly a social norm, a point of orientation and not something that
can be fully or even nearly fully enforced. As social distancing, it
depends for its success on the adoption of individuals and the
informal enforcement by individuals and civil society players such as
shop-owners and employers. In order to implement such new norms,
they have to become focal. It is unlikely to happen, or perhaps it takes
a relatively long time for that to happen, but governments and
organizations in civil society like sports celebrities or churches can
play an important coordinating role in advising this as a new norm.
And when looking jointly at social distancing and mask-wearing, an
important additional aspect of norms as points of orientation comes
to the fore: complementarity. The wearing of a mask constantly
reminds the individual of the exceptional times we are living
through, so that the sheer discomfort of wearing the mask reminds
that social distancing is an equally advisable norm to keep in mind if
Implicitly the importance of norms was understood by many
governments, although explicitly it has been largely left out in the
public debate, which has typically pitted distrustful and scared
citizens against a government that was either doing too much or too
are dealing here with an issue of norms. It is also well illustrated by
the fact that in the Netherlands the misstep by the minister of justice
and security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, who did not practice social
distancing during his own wedding did much to undermine
confidence in the measures. If the proper way to view the role of
government is providing points of orientation, of suggesting new
norms, then these should indeed be consistently practiced by officials
at all levels of government. When, on the contrary, politicians openly
refuse to wear masks, as in the case of many Alternative for Germany
MPs in the Bundestag, they provide the opposite point of orientation
and encourage those citizens who refuse compliance with the new
The realization that we are dealing here with norms has another
important implication: That we are jointly owners of the governance
of these norms. Rather than pitting a government against an
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
unwilling or undisciplined society, it highlights the fact that norms
are part of society and not imposed upon it from above. This is very
civil society as the prime
domain of coordination of political activity (Havel, 1994), and Franz
private law society as the prime domain of
coordination of legal activity (Böhm, 1966). In that sense, the negative
effect of enforced and top-down lockdowns is probably most
importantly that it crowds out the bottom-up emergence and
governance of these norms. If the citizens are not trusted or believed
to be incapable of voluntary adaptation, then certain types of policies
will only reinforce those beliefs, precisely by crowding out this kind
of social initiatives and the learning related to them, and thus
narrowing the scope for citizens to show responsibility in their
behavior. We also base our case for a decentralized, federalist
discovery procedure for adequate measures on the assumption that a
sense of joint norms ownership, and thus the likelihood to show
responsibility by accepting and living these norms, is more likely to
council. Norms which come from far away will have to fight the
suspicion that they do not match local specificities, and that the
players who have imposed them are too far away to care about the
A final implication of this norm-oriented perspective is that the
current position of many experts is problematic. In the stance and
rhetoric they employ, it is recognizable that health experts are too
often primarily working in the service of governments, rather than in
the service of society. Many experts understand their advisory role as
n were
they thinking about the optimal set of government policies, rather
than the optimal adaptation strategies of different groups and
regions in society. This has much to do with the fact that
epidemiologists and other health experts are very closely entangled
with modern governments, much like is the case for economists
(Koppl, 2018). A crisis like this demonstrates the dangers of this
entanglement. First, it means that a distrust of government is easily
extended to a distrust in the associated experts, and consequently in
expertise itself. Second, it gives rise to the danger that the experts are
not fully free to give their opinions in order to prevent those
opinions from undermining policies. But most of all, this
entanglement prevents mutual learning regarding the issues of risk
and trade-offs we discussed earlier.
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
digitalized media space which we live in. What at the time of Walter
on (Lippmann,
1922) appeared as a complex, but shapeable phenomenon, looks very
different today. From points of orientation in earlier decades, media
of public opinion. As a result of the
gained a much higher degree of autonomy in selecting her sources of
information. The citizen has become truly sovereign of what counts
as credible. In the pre-digital media the choices were much more
limited and the breadth of acceptable opinions to be found in these
earlier media was much more limited by the fairly stable quality
standard self-imposed by the guild of professional journalists and
publishers. This has certainly changed by the sheer explosion of
media channels and, above all, by social media where everybody can
advance to an influential producer of media content without any
formal education or the binding force of any professional quality
standards. At the same time, one can have doubts whether the
paralleled by an increase in the competences of critical reading and
selection out of the ocean of potential media sources. In the
pandemic, this self-selection of sources has not been limited to
media or of ideological success with political influencers on social
plurality of points of orientation which has always been the case in a
democratic society with its pluralistic media space. Instead, the
space, with the related phenomena of filter bubbles and echo
chambers (Messingschlager, Holtz, 2019), are substantial hurdles for
societal learning and coordination. Fundamental distrust in those
learning trajectories of norm (non-)adoption up to the point where
norms clash and collide, instead of providing orientation and
coordination. But if those are the circumstances we find ourselves in,
they only underscore the need for organizing and facilitating a public
debate and involving civil society.
precisely implied by this phrase, what kind of perspective is offered,
what does it imply for the imagined future of our societies? At the
very least, it suggests that these new norms are not merely short-
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
term, but will have to be accepted for a longer period of time. And it
leaves open what comes after this new normal, what we should
image about the future. Some of the frustration and suspicion
experienced during the lockdowns and the pandemic more generally
is clearly a result about the very uncertainty of the future itself.
Nobody knows when the old normal will return, although the
vaccines provide hope for the year of 2021.
Take, for example, the fact that working-from-home has become a
norm that is likely to, at least partly, stick after the pandemic. It is a
clear example of how learning and adaptation has led to results that
would most likely have left both employees and employers better off.
Although, yet again, the recognition of the inevitable heterogeneity
of the effects of such changes is important. It is likely to be a lot more
beneficial to those employees without small children at home, and
with already established networks. Of other social practices it is still
largely unclear what the new normal is going to look like. Will large-
scale gatherings such as festivals and sports events ever be the same
again? And what are the effects on the public transportation system
and the airline industry, now that it is evident that at least in the
short-run many have switched to alternative modes of transportation
or limited their travel altogether?
There are important questions about the politico-economic new
normal as well. A good example are the recent transformations we
have experienced in fiscal and monetary policies in the EU. Is the
measure due to the Corona-related compensation packages and the
explosion of 2020/2021 deficit? If so, it would be in line with the
Constitution, but is it imaginable that the acceptance of the current
astronomic deficits could also entail the mid- and long-term
scrapping of this point of orientation that has been so seminal in
securing trust in fiscal responsibility in the Eurozone during its acute
crisis (Burret, Schnellenbach, 2013)? Are the extraordinary monetary
policy measures of the ECB likely to be perpetuated and result in
open and full-fledged monetization of the public debt of member
states? Is the emission of public debt on the EU level, in conjunction
current state of exception, or are these measures transforming the EU
closer to becoming a state of its own, with its own redistributive
mechanisms (Feld, Wieland, 2020)? Questions of that kind are
interesting to us as scientists, but also unsettling to us as liberal
citizens who hope that the current state of exception will not be (ab-
the mid- and long-term.
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
This uncertainty is an inherent feature of modern complex open
uncertainty. And this uncertainty is the very reason why
experimentation on the policy front, entailing a decentralized,
federalist discovery procedure for adequate measures, should be
allowed for. Without it, learning and adaptation are not possible.
Liberals can only be open about this uncertainty, about the courage
and optimism and also the risks it entails. Once we are unwilling to
accept that there are omnipresent risks in society, this same society
will necessarily close and become illiberal. It will start to fear what is
alien, ambiguous and new. Liberalism can only proceed from the
ll be better, that adaptation and
learning will ultimately result in something better.
But the virus has confronted us, as citizens too, with a new reality.
Many Western societies have successfully eliminated most risks from
society. Life expectancy has risen for decades on end, people have
become healthier and the last generation that has experienced war
directly at home has nearly disappeared. The virus confronts us
again with the fact that risks can never be fully eliminated, that they
are an inevitable part of our lives and our societies. We must find a
place for tragedies and the tragic side of life in our perspective on the
world. That will be a process of exploration, one that will look
bumpy and possibly even violent when it happens. Perhaps all the
more so for the most affluent societies, which have lost most of this
capability. Modern social science, including economics, has very little
eye for these tragic parts of life, and even less to say about them. But
folk knowledge in all countries is typically a rich source of language,
rituals and practices to deal with the tragic elements of life.
In this essay we have demonstrated that a social science
perspective is indispensable during a pandemic. Dealing with risks
and uncertainty through societal learning and democratic debate are
issues which political economists have long studied, and which are
more important than ever during pandemic. We have emphasized
the Hayekian insights into the incomplete and dispersed nature of
knowledge, and the fundamental difficulties of decision-making in
the face of Knightian uncertainty as two crucial perspectives for
understanding and making sense of the period we are living
through. These insights make clear that a pandemic is not fully
controllable, but that does not imply that political economists are
doomed to a laissez-faire attitude or demoted to be a Cassandra-like
warner. Instead, our perspective underscores how learning processes
for all players to live with risks and to constantly readjust trade-offs
constitute the key channel out of the pandemic. For these learning
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
processes to take place in the state of exception we are living
through, we indicate the fundamental importance of the formation
and adoption of norms as Lachmannian points of orientation. It may
be true that such a liberal, citizen-focused strategy is less handy than
a hard lockdown. But in order to make the lockdown really the
ultima ratio in future crisis, we are certain that cultivating a learning-
conducive environment is the way to go today. One may counter our
argument by criticizing that we lack the time necessary to learn.
However, the more nations, regions and cities accept this mentality
of learning, the faster we will gain the necessary knowledge by this
decentralized, federalist discovery procedure that we see as the only
way to gradually ameliorate uncertainty. For good or bad, we live in
an age of multiple crises, and learning to take responsibility and to
live with the risks around us is an adequate reply for a liberal society
well beyond the Corona pandemic.
Beckert, J. (2016), Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist
Dynamics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Berggren, N., Jordahl, H. (2006), Free to Trust: Economic Freedom and Social
Capital -169.
Berggren, N., Elinder, M., Jordahl, H. (2008), Trust and Growth: A Shaky
Relationship -274.
Böhm, F. (1966), Privatrechtsgesellschaft und Marktwirtschaft
Buchanan, J. M. (1987), The Constitution of Economic Policy (Lecture to the
Memory of Alfred Nobel, December 8, 1986)
Burret, H. T., Schnellenbach, J. (2013), Implementation of the Fiscal Compact in
the Euro Area Member States xperts
Feld, L. P., Wieland, V. (2020), The German Federal Constitutional Court
Gollwitzer, A., Martel, C., Brady, W. J., Pärnamets, P., Freedman, I. G.,
Knowles, E. D., Van Bavel, J. J. (2020), Partisan Differences in Physical
Distancing are Linked to Health Outcomes During the COVID-19 Pandemic,
Havel, V. (1994), Toward a Civil Society: Selected Speeches and Writings, 1990
1994, Lidové Noviny, Prague.
Hayek, F. A. (1945), The Use of Knowledge in Society
Higgs, R. (2009), The Political Economy of Crisis Opportunism
V. 2, N. 2 (2020)
Karlson, N., Stern, C., Klein, D. (2020),
Permissive COVID Regime
regime, accessed 10 December 2020.
Knight, F. H. (1921), Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Koppl, R. (2018), Expert Failure, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Lachmann, L. M. (1971), The Legacy of Max Weber, Glendessary Press,
Leipziger Volkszeitung. (2020), Corona-Lage in Sachsen: Kretschmer fordert
neue-Bergamo-Kretschmer-fordert-autoritaere-Strukturen, accessed 14
December 2020.
Lippmann, W. (1922), Public Opinion, Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York.
Lucas, R. E. Jr. (1976), Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique, in
- -46.
Ludvigsson, J. F. (2020), 19
Strategy and the Key Actions and Actors That Were Involved a
Machlup, F. (1961), Are the Social Sciences Really Inferior?
Messingschlager, T., Holtz, P. (2019), Filter Bubbles und Echo Chambers, in
M. Appel (ed.), Die Psychologie des Postfaktischen: Über Fake News,
, Springer, Cham, 91-102.
Müller, R. (2020), Aufruf der Hausärzte: Die Corona-Pandemie muss relativiert
die-corona-pandemie-muss-relativiert-werden-16744643.html, accessed
10 December 2020.
Newport, F. (2020), The Partisan Gap in Views of the Coronavirus
15 May:
matters/311087/partisan-gap-views-coronavirus.aspx, accessed 5
December 2020.
Padilla, J., Hípola, B. (2020), Ideology and Polarization in Times of Coronavirus,
coronavirus, accessed 3 December 2020.
Schmitt, C. (1932), Der Begriff des Politischen, Duncker & Humblot, Munich.
Sporrer, L. M. (2020), , in
gegen-Corona-481808.html, accessed 10 December 2020.
... The corresponding intellectual encasement of all function systems would then not only preclude necessarily unsuccessful attempts at direct political interventions, but also act as a resistor preventing politics from intellectual short circuits originating from other function systems. Thus, the state in multifunctional liberalism does not resort to much-maligned 'neoliberal' killer phrases such as 'the markets demand it', and it cannot be blackmailed by the forms of health emergency rhetoric that prevailed, for example, in the context of the 2020 coronavirus crisis (Clausen, 2022;Harste & Laursen, 2022;Kolev & Dekker, 2021;Morales, 2021;Zažar, 2022;Zinn, 2020). ...
Full-text available
As neoliberalism is sinking into disrepute, states are responding to current crises by inroads on basic rights. This constellation adds urgency to the timeworn subject of statehood and its relationship to law and liberty. The paper addresses this subject by enhancing the neoliberal concept of an encased economy with James Coleman's concept of law as indicator of social change and Niklas Luhmann's functional differentiation. The resulting multifunctional liberalism associates liberties and rights with the autonomy of function systems -such as politics, economy or law - and envisions an ecosystem of multifunctional organizations able to navigate the full spectrum of functional differentiation.
... Verfestigt wird diese "neue Normalität" durch den staatlich unterstützten Au au enormer Infrastrukturen zur Herstellung, Verteilung und Verabreichung von Impfsto en sowie zur ankierenden Verhaltenskontrolle. Die einst unterstellte politische Blindheit für gesundheitliche Risiken mag in die Krise geführt haben; nun aber sorgt die Verabsolutierung dieser Risiken für die Fortdauer des Ausnahmezustands (Kolev/Dekker 2020). ...
Full-text available
Vor dem Hintergrund der Corona-Krise skizziert dieser Artikel ein Staatsmodel, dass sich eher als Rahmen- denn als Gegenkonzept zum Notstandsstaat versteht. Darauf aufbauend lässt sich zeigen, wie dieses Modell Konstruktionsfehler auch neoliberaler Staatsvorstellungen aufzeigen und derart weiterentwickeln kann, dass ein multifunktionaler Liberalismus ein breiteres Spektrum gesellschaftlicher Interessen und ökologischer Risiken systematisch reflektieren kann.
... A new agenda for business and management research is on the horizon (Anker, 2021). Governance in a state of emergency might well be the new default form of governance (Appadurai, 2020;Gumbrecht, 2021;Kolev & Dekker, 2021;Zinn, 2020) even though, or precisely because, the WHO (2020) warns that the COVID-19 pandemic is "not necessarily the big one." Governments' handling of the pandemic therefore already portrays "a caricatured form of the figure of biopolitics that seems to have come straight out of a Michel Foucault lecture" while it still may be nothing but a dress rehearsal for the next, larger, ecological crisis (Latour, 2021). ...
Full-text available
In mid-2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced the Great Reset, an initiative launched to assert, describe, and shape the direction of an epochal transition brought about by the global coronavirus crisis. Rooted in a European tradition of social theory, this article aims to articulate the broader social context of this scenario and pinpoint its implications for management and organization theory. One of these implications is that our fields face a significant risk of co-performing rather than studying the looming “great transformation” from an economy-to a health-dominated society, thus merely replacing one reductionism with another. It follows that what is required are management and organization theories that analyze rather than ride the macro social trends that shape organizations and their environments. The article concludes that if crises are the golden moments of alternative mainstreams, then for those interested in alternatives to the emerging “new normality” the golden moment to develop the next alternative mainstream theories is now.
... So zeichnet sich in der Tat eine «neue Normalität» ab: als eigentliche Risikogruppen behandelt man nun die Jungen und Gesunden, und generell alle, die sich nicht wie Risikogruppen verhalten oder haben behandeln lassen. Verfestigt wird diese «neue Normalität» durch den staatlich unterstützten Aufbau enormer Infrastrukturen zur Herstellung, Verteilung und Verabreichung von Impfstoffen sowie zur flankierenden Verhaltenskontrolle. Die einst unterstellte politische Blindheit für gesundheitliche Risiken mag in die Krise geführt haben; nun aber sorgt die Verabsolutierung dieser Risiken für die Fortdauer des Ausnahmezustands (Kolev und Dekker 2020). Tatsächlich kommen uns Planungen für einen baldigen Rückbau der «neunormalen» soziotechnischen Infrastruktur kaum mehr in den Sinn. ...
Full-text available
Die Coronakrise schafft Momentum für notstandsstaatliche Massnahmen und Gruppenmoral. Man begründet Sonderrechte und überträgt das aktuelle Krisenmanagement gedanklich auf den Kampf gegen den Klimawandel. Vor dem Hintergrund dieser "neuen Normalität" skizziert der vorliegende Beitrag ein Staatsverständnis, das sich mehr als Rahmenkonzept von Staatlichkeit denn als Gegenmodell zum totalitären Notstandsstaat versteht. Dabei zeigt sich, dass dieser neue Ansatz auch Konstruktionsfehler neoliberaler Staatsvorstellungen aufdecken und korrigieren kann. Im Ergebnis steht die Aussicht auf eine Zeit nach der "neuen Normalität", in der ein multifunktionaler Liberalismus staatliche Entscheidungsprogramme soweit umgestaltet hat, dass ein Staat ohne ausgeprägte Totalisierungsneigung auf ein breiteres Spektrum gesellschaftlicher Interessen und ökologischer Risiken reagieren kann.
Full-text available
Numerous polls suggest that COVID-19 is a profoundly partisan issue in the United States. Using the geotracking data of 15 million smartphones per day, we found that US counties that voted for Donald Trump (Republican) over Hillary Clinton (Democrat) in the 2016 presidential election exhibited 14% less physical distancing between March and May 2020. Partisanship was more strongly associated with physical distancing than numerous other factors, including counties’ COVID-19 cases, population density, median income, and racial and age demographics. Contrary to our predictions, the observed partisan gap strengthened over time and remained when stay-at-home orders were active. Additionally, county-level consumption of conservative media (Fox News) was related to reduced physical distancing. Finally, the observed partisan differences in distancing were associated with subsequently higher COVID-19 infection and fatality growth rates in pro-Trump counties. Taken together, these data suggest that US citizens’ responses to COVID-19 are subject to a deep—and consequential—partisan divide.
Full-text available
Experimental evidence on gender differences demonstrates that women are generally less trusting and more reciprocating than men in Investment Games. However, existing studies typically use a narrow population consisting of college students. To test the robustness of these findings, we report on an experiment using 18-84-year old participants recruited from an online panel. While trusting gender differences are robust across age, with women less trusting than men, reciprocating behavior is not robust across age; gender differences in reciprocating behavior depend on age and amounts received in a complex manner. Regarding trusting behavior, we also find that men and women of all ages trust women and older people more than men and younger people. To understand trust better, we collected socio-economic and demographic information and experimentally measured how much subjects expected different partner types would return. While socio-economic and demographic information explain little of the trusting and reciprocating behavior, expectations explain nearly 50 percent of the reason women trust less than men and why more is sent to women and older people. However, even after controlling for expectations, gender and age differences remain significant in explaining trusting behavior.
The judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court on the legality of the OMT decision of the European Central Bank was eagerly awaited. On the one hand, the Federal Constitutional Court let the decision of the European Central Bank pass through the standards of the German Basic Law. On the other hand, it developed a modified position in co-operation with the CJEU and created new kinds of protection obligations from the right to a democratic participation of the citizen. These protection obligations justify a responsibility for integration of the German State bodies accompanied by the European integration process. All in all the position of the Federal Constitutional Court in its OMT judgment is more open to integration than in the Lisbon judgment. The obligation of the Federal Constitutional Court to make a reference to the CJEU is underlined. By this the Federal Constitutional Court is fully integrated in the European legal system and a judicial Brexit was prevented.
Capitalism is an economic and social order oriented toward the future. In this paper, I describe the unfolding of the temporal order of capitalism and relate it to the restless dynamism of capitalism we have observed since the Industrial Revolution. Since the future is open, actors are confronted with the uncertainty of the outcomes of their decisions. What can expectations be under conditions of uncertainty? To answer this question, I introduce the notion of fictional expectations which can be used to describe decisions made under conditions of an open and uncertain future. In the paper's penultimate section, I apply the concept of fictional expectations to the analysis of four crucial processes of capitalism: money and credit, investments, innovation, and consumption. The main thrust of the paper is that in order to understand economic action in capitalism, actors' perceptions of the future need to take center stage. Not only history matters, but also the future matters.
We present new evidence on how generalized trust is formed. Unlike previous studies, we look at the explanatory power of economic institutions, we use newer data, we incorporate more countries, and we use instrumental variables in an attempt to handle the causality problem. A central result is that legal structure and security of property rights (area 2 of the Economic Freedom Index) increase trust. The idea is that a market economy, building on voluntary transactions and interactions with both friends and strangers within the predictability provided by the rule of law, entails both incentives and mechanisms for trust to emerge between people. Copyright 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd..