Björn Bremer bio photo

Researcher and PhD Candidate at the European University Institute (EUI)

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Research

My research focuses on comparative political economy. In other words, I am interested in how decisions in democratic countries impact economic outcomes and vice versa. Trained in both economics and politics in the midst of the Great Recession, I am especially interested in the politics of economic crises when existing laws and theories about how the economy functions do not hold anymore. In order to study these extraordinary times, I combine both quantitative and qualitative methods eclectically. At the moment, I work on the following broad research projects:

1) Austerity from the Left? The Fiscal Policies of Social Democratic Parties in Response to the Great Recession (PhD Thesis)

Austerity has come to define the post-crisis European political economy as the predominant policy response to the Great Recession since 2010. After a brief period of “emergency Keynesianism” from 2008 to 2010, even social democratic parties abandoned plans for deficit-spending and accepted austerity as the dogma of the day. Most of the existing literature attempts to explain this outcome either by pressures from financial markets or by the influence of external institutions, for example the European Union or the International Monetary Fund. However, social democratic parties also accepted fiscal orthodoxy in countries where the pressure from financial markets and external institutions was weak or absent and thus these pressures are not a sufficient explanation to explain austerity from the left. This dissertation instead shifts the focus towards the popular coalitions that underlie macroeconomic policy by examining both the elite and the popular politics of austerity. It argues that social democratic parties had both electoral and ideational reasons to support orthodox fiscal policies during the crisis. On the one hand, social democratic parties believed that there was a high public support for fiscal consolidation. Influenced by the differentiation of interests among their traditional constituencies, they attempted to increase their economic credibility in order appeal to centre-left voters from the expanded middle class. On the other hand, social democrats were influenced by mainstream economic ideas. They drew on New Keynesianism, endogenous growth theory, and supply-side economics to legitimize their support for the “austerity settlement” in the wake of the Great Recession. This combination of electoral and ideational forces created powerful pressures for social democratic parties to support orthodox economic policies over Keynesian deficit-spending that they failed to resist. To make this argument, the thesis combines qualitative and quantitative methods and draws on a wide range of empirical evidence. It uses quantitative content analysis, survey experiments, and evidence from more than 40 elite interviews with leading politicians and policy-makers in Germany and the UK in order to study both the demand- and supply-side of politics in Western Europe. In this way, the thesis provides a new account account of social democratic austerity and contributes to a growing literature on the politics of macroeconomic policies.

Publications:

Working papers:

  • “The ideational foundations of social democratic austerity” (with Sean McDaniel)
  • “The political economy of the SPD Reconsidered: Evidence from the Great Recession”

2) The Political Consequences of the Great Recession

I am a member of the ERC-funded research project POLCON, which analyses the political consequences of the Great Recession. The project combines a comparative-static analysis of 30 European countries with a dynamic analysis of political conflict in 12 cases. For this purpose, we study both elections and political protest in the shadow of the Great Recession and attempt to analyse the issue-specific public interaction between both political arenas. The key question that the project attempts to address is whether the Great Recession changed the long-term trends of European democracies. For this purpose, we utlise survey data as well as original content analyis of protest events, election campaigns, and issue-specific public contestations.

In co-authored papers, I work on different aspects of this research project. On the one hand, I work on comparative-static analyses of the electoral consequences of the Great Recession. On the other hand, I analyse the development of political conflict in comparative case studies. In particular, I have worked on chapters in edited volumes that analyse the development of political conflict in Germany, Greece, Spain and the UK.

Publications:

Working papers:

  • “Dynamics of protest and electoral politics in the Great Recession: A comparative study of 30 European countries” (with Swen Hutter and Hanspeter Kriesi)
  • “From the public purse to the ballot box: The electoral prospects of incumbent parties after austerity and bank bailout packages during the Great Recession” (with Abel Bojar, Hanspeter Kriesi and Chendi Wang)
  • “The restructuring of British and German party politics in times of crisis” (with Julia Schulte-Cloos)

3) Public Opinion Towards Fiscal and Social Policies: Studying Priorities and Trade-Offs with Survey Experiments (with Reto Bürgisser)

In this joint research project, we I study public opinion towards (i) fiscal policies (including government spending, taxation, and government debt) and (ii) social policies (including varies forms of social investment and social consumption). The research project brings together our substantive interests in the politics of fiscal policies and the welfare state and it uses original conjoint and split-sample survey experiments in four European countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, UK) to capture the multidimensionality of fiscal and social policies. Disentangling the preferences towards different policies in this way allows us to analyse the citizens’ priorities when they are confronted with some of the trade-offs that are inherent in policy-making.

4) Other Work in Progress

  • “Income, asset ownership, and preferences for redistribution: A comprehensive model” (with Andreas Winkler)
  • “Public preferences towards social investment: Comparing patterns of support across the world”