Managing the Discontent of the Losers

The New School for Social Research Working Paper 16/2018

27 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2018

Date Written: November 1, 2018


In the early-mid 1990s, Social Structure of Accumulation (SSA) theorists identified the solidification of a neoliberal SSA that included a capital-citizen accord based on “managing the discontent of the losers”. This created social stability by reconciling working households to material hardships emanating form the neoliberal labour market by means of either coercion or non-economic distraction. This paper argues that there was, in fact, a fundamentally material basis to the neoliberal capital-citizen accord, including the ability of households to accumulate debt in order to limit the growth of consumption inequality in the face of burgeoning income inequality. The material basis of the capital-citizen accord broke down during the financial crisis of 2007-09, destabilizing the accord itself. The result is that an SSA that has resisted top-down reform is now threatened by bottom-up “reform” in the shape of rising populism. The outcomes of this process are highly uncertain – a key characteristic of the periods of inter regnum that separate successful SSAs.

Keywords: social structure of accumulation, capital-citizen accord, household debt, consumption inequality, populism

JEL Classification: E21, B51, B52, P16

Suggested Citation

Setterfield, Mark, Managing the Discontent of the Losers (November 1, 2018). The New School for Social Research Working Paper 16/2018. Available at SSRN: or

Mark Setterfield (Contact Author)

New School for Social Research ( email )

6 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
United States

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