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 borad research projects:

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

The current economic crisis in Europe has also caused a crisis of social democracy. Following a brief period of ‘emergency Keynesianism’ shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, social democratic parties accepted austerity as the dogma of the day since 2010 and, thereby, proposed and implemented macroeconomic policies that are contrary to their general economic ideology. This has happened even in countries where the pressures from financial markets to consolidate state finances were weak or absent (e.g. Germany, Netherlands) and, hence, market pressures are not a sufficient explanation. Still, most of the existing literature attempts to explain this outcome by the institutional constraints that have been placed upon European politicians during the Great Recession. In my thesis, I shift the focus towards the popular coalitions that underlie socio-economic policy by examining both the elite and the popular politics of austerity in order to explain the policy-making process within social democratic parties. Uncovering the surprising amount of popular support for austerity among voters, my thesis argues that parties adopted orthodox fiscal policies to signal economic competence. In the context of the Euro crisis, which was framed as a fiscal crisis of the state, social democratic parties faced voters that were fiscally orthodox. Based on the iron logic of ‘folk economics’ that governments cannot spend more than they earn, many voters believed that fiscal consolidation was necessary. In combination with lingering neo-Keynesian ideas from the Third Way among party leaders, these ‘electoral pressures’ were just as powerful as ‘market pressures’ and created the pre-conditions for the social democratic embrace of austerity. Combining a larger quantitative analysis with case studies, the thesis tests this argument by studying both the demand and the supply-side of politics in Western Europe. In this way, it attempts to bring the ‘electoral turn’ to the ideational literature in political economy.

Publications:

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 more carefully. In particular, I have worked on chapters in edited volumes that analyse the development of political conflict in Germany, UK, Greece, and Spain.

Working Papers:

3) The Politics of the Welfare State: Conceptualising the Multi-Dimensionality of Public Preferences

In recent decades, the politics of the welfare state have become complex. In an age of permanent austerity, governments face difficult choices about how to redistribute resources across society and reform the existing welfare states. In liberal democracies public opinion has a strong conditioning effect on these choices because governments have to anticipate the public’s reaction to policy changes. Consequently, in my research I attempt to conceputalise the multi-dimensionality of public preferences towards the welfare state.

In a paper co-authored with Andreas Winkler, I study how private wealth influences preferences towards redistribution. We argue that existing models do not allow us to answer that question and we attempt to develop a new comprehensive model. This model supports initial evidence that asset ownership reduces support for redistribution (Ansell, 2014; Auf dem Brinke, 2015), but it suggest that this effect is relatively small. Moreover, the effect is influenced by an individual’s level of income and it depends on the liquidity of the assets that an individual owns as well as the level of existing redistributive spending. We test these hypotheses by using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) for 22 advanced economies and show that there is preliminary evidence for all our hypotheses. This indicates that the financialisation of advanced economies has complicated the preferences of citizens towards the welfare state, which future research should explore more fully.

In a second paper, I analyse the public preferences towards social investment. The existing literature on public preferences towards the welfare state has mostly focused on explaining attitudes towards redistribution and the amount of welfare state spending. However, in recent decades the politics of the welfare state have become multi-dimensional as governments have turned towards new policies like social investment. Public preferences towards these policies are still understudied. In particular, there are two open questions. First, we still do not know whether preferences towards social investment are explained by economic self-interest or social values and norms. Second, it is not clear yet, whether and how preferences to social investment vary across countries. I attempt to answer both questions in this paper by using multi-level analysis with data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) from 24 countries.

Working Papers:

4) Public Opinion Towards Fiscal and Social Policies: Studying Priorities and Trade-Offs with Survey Experiments

In a joint research project with Reto Bürgisser, 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). This research project brings together my substantive interests in the politics of fiscal policies and the welfare state. 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 ways allows us to analyse the citizens’ priorities when they are confronted with the trade-offs that policy-makers face.

5) Analysing the Weaknesses of the German Export-led Growth Model: Where is the Achilles Heel? (with Guido Baldi)

While many countries in the Euro area are only slowly climbing out of the Great Recession, the German economy has been heralded a super-star in the last few years. Central to Germany’s success has been the strength of its export sector: persistent current account surpluses have allowed the economy to grow at a robust pace since 2009 and reduced unemployment to the lowest level since unification. Still, internationally the German export-led growth model has come under attack in the last few years. Reflecting a normative shift in the debate on the global and European macroeconomic imbalances, Germany has been criticised by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Commission for creating a deflationary bias in the Eurozone. Importantly, these actors have not only criticised the German model but they have also argued that Germany’s growth model is problematic for the Germany itself because Germany’s economy is too dependent on the performance of other countries. In this research project, we argue that the German export-led growth model has also become suboptimal for Germany for a different reason. By analysing the evolution of Germany’s net international investment position (NIIP), we find show that Germany has lost savings worth nearly 20 percent of GDP (equivalent to 650 billion U.S. dollars) from 2005 to 2012 and only regained some of these losses afterwards. This is the result of an institutional weakness of the German export-led model: in order to prevent inflationary capital inflows, Germany has to recycle its export profits in the international financial system, while foregoing productivity increasing investment opportunities in Germany. In an increasingly unstable international financial system this export of capital is very risky and can lead to large losses during financial crises.

Past publications: