The Political Economy of Transpositions: A Study of the Eurozone Crisis


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Virginia Tech


This study offers a reinterpretation of the so-called Eurozone crisis, arguing that its crisis character is overstated and that it is rather a normal stage in the process of European banking sector integration. Particularly, I maintain that it is neither a sovereign debt crisis caused by profligate peripheral governments, nor a crisis of the Eurozone's common monetary policy. Nor, however, are the Eurozone's low growth, high unemployment, and economic and political instability deliberate policies, whether by German or Greek governments, European institutions, or the European banking circuitry.

Rather, I trace the Eurozone's low growth and high unemployment back to what I call transpositions. Transpositions change the possible boundaries of perceiving political and economic situations by altering the syntagmatic structure governing their intelligibility. The shift from 2003-2007 'boom times' to post-2007 'times of crisis' is one such transposition, which occurs behind the backs of human actors and thus forms the horizon of possible behavior of market and political actors. The Eurozone's 'crisis' transposition, results in differentiations within the asset class of Euro-denominated sovereign debt between a 'core,' comprising Germany, Austria, Latvia, and Finland, among others, and a 'periphery,' encompassing Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Cyprus. It follows that the solvency of Eurozone member states is a derivative function of banking sector liquidity, reversing the conventional 'sovereign debt crisis' explanation to what I call the country-fundamental transposition.

The second transposition I explore is the austerity transposition. I maintain that the Eurozone's real economy is more interconnected than conventional narratives of European economic unification allow, and that supposedly national European economies – including particularly that of Germany – are integrated subcircuits of Europe's real economy. Constituting them as supposedly national economies is itself a transposition, necessary for the preservation of the European banking circuitry's interconnected balance sheets. Yet, the austerity transposition goes further, beyond a form of political economy oriented towards growth and sustainability, and into a moral economy of condemnation differentiating between morally virtuous and morally pernicious economies in the Eurozone. Its destructive effects are therefore neither irrational nor the result of a German hegemonic agenda, but that of the Eurozone's post-2007 syntagmatic structure.



austerity, crisis discourse, Eurozone crisis, Greek debt crisis, methodological nationalism, sovereign debt, transposition