Democracy   /   Spring 2000   /    Articles

The New Political Economy and Its Culture

Richard Sennett

Cosmos Village mini-mall, Los Angeles; downtowngal/Wikimedia Commons.

Place has a different meaning now in large part thanks to economic changes.

Democracy today takes form within a public culture that is profoundly influenced by the new political economy. In this economy, work and place are changing in ways that a mere twenty years ago seemed unimaginable. In the 1970s, the great corporate bureaucracies and government hierarchies of the developed world appeared to be securely entrenched, the products of centuries of economic development and nation-building. Commentators used to speak of “late capitalism” or “mature capitalism” as though earlier forces of growth had somehow entered an end-game phase. But today, a new chapter has opened. The economy is global and makes use of new technology; mammoth government and corporate bureaucracies are becoming both more flexible and less secure institutions. As a result, the ways we work have altered: short-term jobs replace stable careers, skills rapidly evolve, and the middle class experiences anxieties and uncertainties more confined in an earlier era to the working classes.



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