Adrian Wooldridge: Democratic capitalism is running on fumes

NEW YORK — As the chief economics correspondent of the Financial Times since 1996, Martin Wolf is one of the world’s most influential economists.

He started his journalistic career as a vigorous advocate of globalization and deregulation, but since the global financial crisis his mood has darkened. His new book, “The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism,” is both his magnum opus and an explanation of his crisis of faith.

Wolf started writing the book in the annus horribilis of 2016. The twin hammer blows of Brexit and Trump’s election provoked lamentation and garment-rending in the FT’s London headquarters, where Tory supporters are as thin on the ground as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Wolf was particularly upset.

In a moving preface, he describes how both his parents fled from Europe in the late 1930s — his father from Austria in 1937 and his mother from the Netherlands in 1940 — and how members of his family who failed to make the escape were killed in the Holocaust. “I and my brother, born in 1948, are, like many millions of others, children of catastrophe.” The family memory of the 1930s left him with a permanent sense of the fragility of civilization.

Wolf argues that democracy and capitalism are complementary opposites: Opposites because capitalism depends on inequality of rewards while democracy depends on political equality, complementary because they both enshrine the principle of individual choice. But in recent decades this marriage of opposites has been falling apart,