March 9, 7 pm
Klaus Ronneberger

The New Spirit of Capitalism



In the 1970s, the Fordist growth model succumbed to a dual crisis: on the one hand, the productivity reserves of the Taylorist work organization were exhausted, and on the other, with the growing internationalization of the economy, the tools of the Keynesian welfare state were failing.

The crisis at the time not only possessed an economic dimension—the changing everyday practices of the collective and of individuals also contributed decisively to shaking the foundations of the contemporary socialization model. The expansion of social security systems, rising wage levels and the promotion of the educational system in the 1960s had led to an opening up of the social space and to the release of subjectivity. As an expression of these changing attitudes, a number of social movements emerged that attacked authoritarian and hierarchical structures, with people demanding greater autonomy and self-fulfillment.

In a sense, this “artists’ critique” contributed directly or indirectly to the reworking and modernization of capitalism. Thus, entrepreneurs began in the mid-1970s to modify working conditions—which up until then had been characterized by alienation, lack of challenges and entrenched hierarchies— by aiming for more enriching work activities, teamwork, individual performance incentives and participatory management. The “new spirit of capitalism” is marked above all by a generalization of management in the form of projects. While the passive, carefully planned work process was formerly regarded as ideal, today virtues such as independence and initiative are in demand. In general, one might say that after an era of “objective rule” had replaced the authoritarian, paternalistic regimes at the beginning of the last century, today the demand for a “controlled autonomy” is pushing through a new social standard.

Klaus Ronneberger worked for many years at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main. He works today as a freelance journalist.