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New Left Review 22, July-August 2003


Göran Therborn on Robin Blackburn, Banking on Death. The fate of pensions in the future of capitalism, as political struggles over them escalate in North and South alike.

GÖRAN THERBORN

CAPITAL’S TWILIGHT ZONE

Second only to war, pensions have become the most divisive—and, perhaps, the most decisive—issue of contemporary politics. Massive popular mobilizations on the question during the nineties brought down Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy (1994–95) and Alain Juppé’s in France (1995–96). In the summer of 2003, it poses the most direct political challenge to ruling parties of every hue: German Social Democrats, French neo-Gaullists, Austrian Christian Democrats and the newly elected pt in Brazil. Returned to power, Berlusconi is lobbying for a ‘Maastricht del welfare’, a Europe-wide downsizing of public pensions that would have, according to the Corriere della Sera, ‘the same binding force as Maastricht has had for the common currency’. Across the Atlantic, the mayor of Mexico City Andrés Manuel López Obrador is using Latin America’s second oldest (after Cuba) universal pension system—financed, within a pre-given budget framework, through more effective property management and by ‘republican austerity’ cutting bureaucratic perks—as a promising springboard for a possible presidential bid.

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