Adam Tooze on the ‘Polycrisis’: in two keys?

Almost Marx …

The Reader isn’t quite prepared, for Adam Tooze, in his Financial Times streamlined iteration. Those New Statesman essays, have been miniaturized for those busy Capitalist Technos? Those majestic paragraphs are … Call it a collection of ideas, foreshortened for those readers, at the breakfast table, or riding that commuter train into the office? Let me begin here:

Headline: Welcome to the world of the polycrisis

Sub-headline: Today disparate shocks interact so that the whole is worse than the sum of the parts.

Adam Tooze October 28, 2022.

With economic and non-economic shocks entangled all the way down, it is little wonder that an unfamiliar term is gaining currency — the polycrisis. 

 A problem becomes a crisis when it challenges our ability to cope and thus threatens our identity. In the polycrisis the shocks are disparate, but they interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts. At times one feels as if one is losing one’s sense of reality. Is the mighty Mississippi really running dry and threatening to cut off the farms of the Midwest from the world economy? Did the January 6 riots really threaten the US Capitol? Are we really on the point of uncoupling the economies of the west from China? Things that would once have seemed fanciful are now facts.

In my own reductive way I have outlined Mr. Tooze’s interpretation of what ‘Polycrisis’ is? It is a noun, as it describes a thing, no matter its abstractness!

This comes as a shock. But how new is it really?… This comes as a shock. But how new is it really?… So have we been living in a polycrisis all along?…Meanwhile, the diversity of problems is compounded by the growing anxiety that economic and social development are hurtling us towards catastrophic ecological tipping points. … The pace of change is staggering…. So, what is the outlook?… Perhaps. But it is an unrelenting foot race, because what crisis-fighting and technological fixes all too rarely do is address the underlying trends. …

I will put this to use in attempting to interpret? Mr. Tooze’s latest essay:

Headline: Three ways to read the ‘deglobalisation’ debate

Sub-headline: Proponents of business as usual and the new cold warriors are too confident of their ability to predict the future.

Adam Tooze 

 JANUARY 30 2023

As 2023 unfolds, the world of economic analysis and commentary is marked by a disjuncture between discourse and data. On the one hand, you have feverish talk of deglobalisation and decoupling. While on the other, the statistics show an inertial continuity in trade and investment patterns.


There are at least three ways to reconcile this tension.  

Option one: you can cleave to the old religion that economics always wins.

Option two: rather than business as usual, we are on the cusp of a new historical epoch, a new cold war.

Option three: We are witnessing not a reversal of globalisation or full-scale decoupling, but a continuation of some aspects of familiar pattern, just on fundamentally different premises.  

The end point of Mr. Tooze’s flaccid polemic :

Whereas the advocates of business as usual declare that it is still “the economy, stupid” and the new cold warriors rally around the banner of “democracy versus autocracy”, the third position faces the reality of confusion, the kind of confusion registered by a term like “polycrisis”.  

Polycrisis has its critics, and at Davos 2023 it risked becoming something of a cliché. But as a catchword it serves three purposes. It registers the unfamiliar diversity of the shocks that are assailing what had previously seemed a settled trajectory of global development. It insists that this coincidence of shocks is not accidental but cumulative and endogenous. And, by its currency, it marks the moment at which bullish self-confidence about our ability to decipher either the future or recent history has begun to seem at the same time facile and passé.

Polycrisis is Techno-Speak ‘a catchword it serves three purposes’ … to place the economic/political future, in the hands of  toxic political actors, that are the natural inheritors of Hayek/Mises/Friedman: as we have yet to self-emancipate from the thrall of the Neo-Liberal Swindle!

Almost Marx

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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