I am currently working on several projects related to my research on financialization and the welfare state, with a special focus on the politics and policies of investment.

DEEPEN: The Democratic Legitimacy of Funded Pension Schemes (2020-2023)

In this NORFACE-funded research project, research teams in 4 countries (Austria, Ireland, Spain and the Netherlands) will explore the democratic governance of capital-funded occupational pension schemes. We adopt Scharpf’s distinction between input legitimacy (are collectively binding decisions in line with citizens’ democratically expressed preferences?) and output legitimacy (do collectively binding decisions serve the common interests of the citizens?) to investigate how governments, regulators and labour market actors govern funded pensions (input legitimacy) and whether participants are satisfied with pension fund performance (output legitimacy). The project focuses on Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Spain, because the structure of funded pension provision varies along key dimensions relevant to input and output legitimacy. The project combines quantitative analysis of survey data with comparative case studies based on elite and expert interviews and analysis of primary and secondary documents.

Four work packages investigate the following research questions: How does national policy define participant influence on funded pension provision? How do stakeholders use pension fund governance to influence investment policy? How have capital-funded pension schemes performed in terms of pension outcomes across European welfare states? To what extent are individual attitudes on pension investment aligned with these inputs and outputs?

The project team includes Karen Anderson (University College Dublin) as Principal Investigator, Juan Fernández (University Carlos III Madrid), Tobias Wiss (Johannes Keppler University Linz) and Natascha van der Zwan (Leiden University) as co-PIs.

Finance in the Welfare State (book project, ongoing)

Finance in the Welfare State is the first political economy of the financialization of the welfare state from a comparative-historical perspective. Finance in the Welfare State breaks ground in at least two ways. While most welfare state scholarship treats pensions as social benefits, this book takes the political choice for the financing mechanism of capital funding as its point of departure. It posits that a capital-funded pension system can best be seen as an important financial channel for workers’ savings into the public and private sectors into the economy. As pension funds grew in size, the political fates of business groups, labor unions, and the state became strongly tied to the financial performance of the pension assets. Those involved in pension governance then used the political process to try and mobilize this pool of capital to further their own interests. Capital-funding also opened up the welfare state to financial agents, whose expertise was strongly needed to navigate this new world of increasingly global financial markets. These experts have had a profound impact on the politics of the welfare state by introducing financial knowledge and ideas into the social policy domain.

Finance in the Welfare State posits that this ‘financial politics of the welfare state’ is an outcome of pension financialization, even in political economies that are institutionally distinct. The book is structured around eight chapters, that each represent critical historical moments at which policy actors within the Dutch and US welfare states recalibrated the relationship between finance and welfare. During the first half of the 20th century, these consisted of the adoption of investment rules for pension funds, the special status of public employee pension funds as financiers of the state, and the pivotal role assigned to pension funds in the development of an industrial economy. In the second half of the 20th century, each of these elements became strongly politicized, as evidenced by contentious political debates over the taxation of pension assets, the desirability of economically targeted investments, and the introduction of financial parameters into pension benefit formulae. A final chapter presents the shadow case of Germany, a welfare state with a much later expansion of funded pensions, to explore the viability of policy alternatives to financialization.

The Routledge Handbook of Financialization (book project, 2017-2020)

With Daniel Mertens and Philip Mader.

Financialization has become the go-to term for scholarship that studies the vastly expanded role of finance in contemporary politics, economy and society. The concept itself has equally expanded and evolved from a niche research theme in critical scholarship to one that informs an increasingly broad-ranging and pluridisciplinary research field. The International Handbook on Financialization will be the first publication of its kind to bring together established and upcoming scholars from various social scientific disciplines to reflect on the state-of-the-art in this emergent field. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the scholarship on financialization as it stands today, almost twenty years after the concept was first embraced by social scientists. Reflecting the move away from scholarship descriptively investigating the manifestations of financialization (e.g. the financialization of particular economic sectors, segments of society, or particular geographies), it highlights scholarship studying the driving forces, mechanisms and boundaries of financialization. Finally, the Handbook promotes a more inclusive approach towards financialization studies: one that does not privilege the North Atlantic region, on which much scholarship has previously focused, but includes contributions which take a more global view – hence “international” handbook.

Read our Table of Contents here.

Pension Funds and Sustainable Investment: Comparing Regulation in Denmark, The Netherlands and Germany (2018-2019)

With Karen Anderson and Tobias Wiβ.

The central aim of this project is to compare national regulation of sustainable investment by pension funds in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. Survey research shows that considerable national differences in sustainable investment (SI) by pension funds continue to exist in Europe and it identifies regulation as one of the drivers for SI . For this reason, it is relevant to explore if and how national regulations impose constraints or offer opportunities for SI by pension funds. The project employs a broad conceptualization of regulation, incorporating 1) national legislation, 2) regulatory activities by supervisory agencies and 3) self-regulation by the pension fund sector itself. We define sustainable investment as an approach to investment that considers environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in portfolio selection and management. In the study, we will focus on three types of regulation influencing sustainable investment by pension funds: 1) corporate governance rules regarding voting of ESG criteria, 2) investment regulations, that prohibit or mandate investment in particular asset classes; and 3) rules regarding the fiduciary duties of pension fund trustees.

This project was financed by a Netspar Comparative Research Grant.