Adam Tooze’s Crashed: The limitations of a Left-liberal historian
22 September 2018
The historian Adam Tooze has published a detailed account of the origins and development of the global financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath.
In the introduction to Crashed, the author describes himself as a Left-liberal historian for whom the tenth anniversary of the financial crisis of 2008 is “not a comfortable vantage point.”
Pointing, at least indirectly, to one potential outcome of the crisis, the consequences of which continue to reverberate, he notes that: “A ten-year anniversary of 1929 would have been published in 1939 [the year of the outbreak of World War II]. We are not there, at least not yet. But this is undoubtedly a moment more uncomfortable and disconcerting than could have been imagined before the crisis began.” [p. 21]
Tooze’s self-characterisation as a Left-liberal points, at least to some extent, to both the strengths and weaknesses of his book.
On the “left” side he makes an important analysis of the operations of the global financial system which led to the meltdown and the “class logic” with which the immediate crisis was overcome.
But as a liberal, whose outlook does not go beyond the framework of the capitalist order, he regards the free market and the profit system as the only possible form of society—a view buttressed by the academic milieu in which he works. Therefore, he does not probe the deeper historical significance of the crisis. Thus, in the end, while at times expressing “outrage” at the measures carried out to bailout the banks and their shareholders, while millions of people had their lives destroyed, he ends up providing a…