The Politics of Crisis and Austerity

Course content

This course considers the relationship between economic crises and the cluster of policy solutions known as ‘austerity’.These are issues of great contemporary relevance and urgency, but the course also situates them within a broader historical and theoretical discussion. It asks why austerity is often seen as the most efficacious solution to economic downturn, and considers whether the resort to austerity in the present repeats errors of the past in light of the history of crises of capitalism. The course seeks to understand the intellectual roots of ‘austerity’ and examines the institutional and ideational factors that explain its widespread use by policy-makers in the present period. The course considers whether austerity as a policy package is either compatible with or sustainable under democratic politics. The course examines the social impact of austerity budgeting in areas such as public health and discusses the emergent politics of anti-austerity on both sides of the political spectrum. The course draws mostly on literature from the political science subfields of comparative and international economy. Students will also be asked to read some texts from the literatures in macroeconomics, economic history, sociology and public health.


Draft syllabus

  1. Introduction: the key themes of the course
  2. Economic crises in historical perspective 1
  3. Economic crises in historical perspective 2
  4. Austerity: the default condition of capitalist democracies?
  5. Austerity: the history of an idea
  6. Governing (through?) austerity
  7. Austerity and democracy
  8. Debating austerity
  9. Are we all austerians now?
  10. The social consequences of austerity 1 (social policy and public health)
  11. The social consequences of austerity 2 (gender)
  12.  Embedding austerity
  13. Resisting austerity from the extremes



Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome

On completion of the course, students should (a) be able to demonstrate familiarity with the main academic and policy debates about the relationship between economic crises; (b) be able to relate concepts and theories about crisis and austerity to concrete empirical cases, both historical and contemporary; (c) be able to make informed, analytical evaluations of rival approaches on questions relating to economic crisis and austerity, and(d) be able to think critically about the broader analytical significance of debates about economic crisis and austerity to the fields of comparative and international political economy. In examining the relationship between economic crises and austerity, the course asks students to consider a wide range of literature and to assess its significance its importance to questions of contemporary policy relevance in (though not necessarily confined to) Europe. The course seeks to enhance key analytical and critical skills that are transferable beyond academic study to a wide range of careers.

The course uses a mixture of mini-lectures, small-group problem-solving/​discussion exercises, role-plays, and plenary debates.

An extensive week-by-week reading list, featuring core reading for each topic will be made available in August 2018. The following list offers an illustration of some of the texts that will be used on the course:


Alesina, A. and Tabellini, G. ‘A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt’, Review of Economic Studies 57(3), 1990, pp. 403-414.


Ban, C. ‘Austerity versus Stimulus? Understanding Fiscal Policy Change at the International Monetary Fund Since the Great Recession’, Governance 28(2), 2015, pp. 167-183


Berry, M. ‘The UK Press and the Deficit Debate’, Sociology Published online before print May 20, 2015 [18], doi: 10.1177/0038038515582158


Blyth, M. Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press, 2013)


Bohle, D. ’Responsible Government and Capitalisms Cycles’, West European Politics 37(2), 2014, pp. 288-308.


Bordo, M. and James, H ’The European Crisis in the Context of the History of Previous Financial Crises’, Journal of Macroeconomics 39(B), 2014, 275-284.


Bramall, R. ‘Popular culture and anti-austerity protest’ Journal of European Popular Culture, 3(1). 2012 pp. 9-22. Available at


Burnham, P. ’Depoliticisation: economic crisis and political management’, Policy and Politics 42(2), 2014, pp. 189-206.


Clarke, J and Newman, J. ’The Alchemy of Austerity’, Critical Social Policy 32(3), 2015, pp. 299-319


Crafts, N. And Mills, T.C. ’Self-defeating austerity? Evidence from the 1930s’, European Review of Economic History doi: 10.1093/ereh/heu024. First published online: February 4, 2015


Dellepiane-Avellaneda, S. ‘The Political Power of Economic Ideas: The Case of “Expansionary Fiscal Contractions”, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 17(3), 2015, pp. 391-418


Eichengreen, B. and Temin, P. ‘The Gold Standard and the Great Depression’, Contemporary European History 9(2), 2000, pp. 183-207 [25] Available at


Gigier, N. and Nelson, M. ‘The electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment: Blame avoidance or credit claiming in the era of permanent austerity?’, European Journal of Political Research 50(1), 2011, pp. 1-23


Kaminsky, G.L., Reinhart, C.M. and Vegh, C.A. ‘Journal of Economic Perspectives


Karamessini, M. ‘Introduction – women’s vulnerability to recession and austerity: a different crisis, a different context’, in Karamessini, M. and Rubery, J. (eds) The economic crisis and the future for gender equality, Routledge, 2013, pp. 3-16 . Available at


Karanikolos, M et al ‘Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe’, The Lancet 381(9874), 2013, pp. 1323-1331.


Konzelman, S. (2014) ‘The political economics of austerity’, Cambridge Review of Economics 38(4), 701-741.


Koronaiou, A. et al ‘Golden Dawn, austerity and young people: the rise of fascist extremism among young people in contemporary Greek society’, The Sociological Review 63(S2), 2015, pp. 231-249


Korpi, W and Palme, J ‘New Politics and Class Politics in the Context of Austerity and Globalization: Welfare State Regress in 18 Countries, 1975–95’, American Political Science Review 97(3), 2003.


Lethbridge, J.‘Impact of the Global Economic Crisis and Austerity Measures on Women’, Public Services International Research Unit, 2013 (Report) . Available at$file/2012%20crisis-impact%20austerity%20on%20women.pdf


Lodge, M and Hood, CInto an Age of Multiple Austerities? Public Management and Public Service Bargains across OECD Countries’, Governance 25(1), 2012, pp. 79-101


Mair, P. ‘Bini Smaghi Vs the Parties: Representative Government and Institutional Constraints’, EUI Working Paper Series RSCAS 2011/22, Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies, Florence, 2011. Available at


Mair, P. Ruling the Void: the Hollowing Out of Western Democracy (Verso, 2013)


Müller, G. J ‘The Debate Over Austerity’, International Finance 17(3), 2014, pp. 403-418


Neal, L. and Weidenmier, M. ‘Crises in the Global Economy from Tulips to Today’, in Bordo, M.D., Taylor, A.M. and Williamson, J.G. (eds). Globalization in Historical Perspective , University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp. 473-514. Available at


Ostry, J.D., Ghosh, A.R. and Espinoza, R. (2015) '


Pierson, P. ‘Coping with permanent austerity: welfare state restructuring in affluent democracies’, in Pierson, P. (ed.) The New Politics of the Welfare State, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 410-456


Pierson, P. ‘From expansion to austerity: the new politics of taxing and spending’, in Levin, M.A., Landy, M.K. and Shapiro, M. (eds) Seeking the Center: Politics and Policymaking in the New Century, Georgetown University Press, 2001, pp. 54-80.


Reinhart, C.M and Rogoff ‘Is the 2007 US Sub-Prime Financial Crisis so Different? An International Historical Comparison’, American Economic Review 98(2), 2008, pp. 339-344.


Schäfer, A and Streeck, W. (eds) Politics in the Age of Austerity (Polity 2013)


Sen, A. ‘The economic consequences of austerity’, New Statesman 4 June 2015


Steinberg, D.A., Koesel, K.J. and Thompson, N.W. ‘Political Regimes and Currency Crises’, Economics and Politics, Article first published online, 3 July 2015


Streeck, W. Buying Time: the Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (Verso, 2014)


Streeck, W. ‘The Rise of the European Consolidation State’, MPIfG Discussion Paper 15/1 (2015)

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28