Challenging varieties of capitalism’s account of business interests: Neoliberal think-tanks, discourse as a power resource and employers’ quest for liberalization in Germany and Sweden

Research paper by Kinderman D.

Indexed on: 21 Dec '17Published on: 24 Dec '16Published in: Socio-economic review


This article contributes to the debate on employer preferences. It challenges varieties of capitalism’s argument that manufacturing employers in Coordinated Market Economies (CMEs) will tend to defend non-liberal institutions because of the comparative institutional advantage that they provide. It examines Germany and Sweden, two critical cases in this debate. It is based on interviews with key officials and an in-depth examination of the Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM) and Timbro, think-tanks sponsored by German and Swedish employers to shape public opinion. In line with power resource theory, I find that both German and Swedish employers have a strong preference for liberalization. In both cases, they responded to left-wing threats, institutional constraints and situations of ‘crisis’ by launching a counteroffensive and promoting welfare state reform, labor market flexibility and deregulation. Employers have used discourse as a power resource to pursue an aggressive liberalizing agenda and to attack institutions that required active deregulation on the part of the state. Whether employers in CMEs seek to dismantle existing institutions altogether or soften and reengineer these institutions from within, one thing is clear: their use of radical neoliberal discourse is incompatible with the claim that they defend traditional institutions in any meaningful sense.