Michael McCarthy Dismantling Solidarity: Capitalist Politics and American Pensions since the New Deal

via Zoom

What explains the decades long marketization of retirement security in the US since the New Deal period? This talk explores two key transformations, which both had profound demonstration effects around the world. First, the adoption of private collectively bargained pensions after World War Two as an alternative to expanding the public Social Security system. And second, the replacement of these defined-benefit plans with riskier defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s. It makes three interlocking arguments about these changes to develop a theory of structural contingency. First, state intervention in labor-management relations triggered marketization. Second, policymakers intervened to manage perceived crises in capitalism – a structural condition. And third, how they intervened and how their policy choices caused marketization was a result of historical contingencies. Drawing from archival research, the talk will argue that the structural constraints of capitalist democracy established a range of possible policy paths available to policymakers, but contingent factors channeled policy selection within that range. It argues that this has important implications for how we conceptualize capitalist democracy.


Michael A. McCarthy is an Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University and an incoming Berggruen Research Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Science, Technology and Public Life. His book, Dismantling Solidarity, was awarded the American Sociological Association's Paul Sweezy Book Award and the Labor and Labor Movements' Distinguished Book Award Honorable Mention. He currently has two book projects underway. The first is on democratizing finance and the second is on sociological Marxism.