Revisiting the regulation approach: critical reflections on the contradictions, dilemmas, fixes and crisis dynamics of growth regimes.

Author:Jessop, Bob


The basic features of the capitalist mode of production (CMP) and its nature as a distinctive ensemble of objects of regulation/governance are such that neither capital as a whole nor the capital-labour relation on which its contradictory and conflictual dynamic depends can be reproduced purely through market relations (Box 1). What most distinguishes capitalism from other forms of producing wealth is its treatment of labour-power as if it were a commodity. In short, the appropriation of surplus labour takes the form of exchange. This turns the labour market and labour process into sites of class struggle between capital and workers. This economic class struggle is overdetermined, of course, by juridico-political and ideological structures and struggles, the complexity of class relations in actually existing social formations, and the intersection of class with other social categories. Class struggle and competition are significant sources of capitalism's open-ended dynamic, and underpin the differential accumulation that reflects the ability of some capitals to grow through market and non-market means faster than others (or at least to suffer less in cyclical downturns and/or in periods of crisis). While the generalisation of the commodity form to labour-power is peculiar to capitalism, there are three other key categories of fictitious commodity: land (or nature); money; and knowledge, with corresponding forms of revenue (rent, interest, royalties) (on degrees and forms of commodification, see Jessop 2007). The relative weight of these fictitious commodities is one way (among others) to distinguish different stages of capitalism, different regimes of accumulation, and different modes of competition within the overall framework of the world market, which is the ultimate horizon of differential accumulation. Thus one might compare rentier extractive economies, regimes based mainly on absolute surplus-value, finance-led economies, and knowledge-based economies.

Capital as an object of regulation

No accumulation regime or strategy, on whatever scale (or scales) it is identified, can be completely coherent or fully institutionalised. This arises because of three key aspects of the capital relation:

* The incompleteness of capital as a purely economic (or profit-oriented, market-mediated) relation such that its continued reproduction depends, in an unstable and contradictory way, on various and changing extra-economic mechanisms whose presence cannot be guaranteed;

* The interrelated structural contradictions and strategic dilemmas of the capital relation. The resolution of some may exacerbate others, or at least require hard-to-achieve complementary solutions, the combination of which depends on different accumulation regimes, modes of regulation, and conjunctures; and

* Conflicts over the regularisation and/or governance of these contradictions and dilemmas as expressed in the circuit of capital and the wider social formation.

The first feature is addressed briefly above and included in the commonalities of capitalism depicted in Box 1, and should be familiar to readers of this journal. Accordingly, while not wishing to underplay the significance of this first feature, I will focus in this article on the second and third features.

Box 1. Some commonalities of capitalism 1. Wealth appears as an immense accumulation of commodities. 2. The commodity form is generalised to labour-power, which is treated as if it were a commodity, although, like land, money, and knowledge, it is in fact a fictitious commodity. 3. The duality of labour-power as concrete labour and abstract labour time. 4. A specific political economy of time that continually rebases abstract time, creating a treadmill of different forms of competition, which tend to subsume more and more forms of social relations. 5. The commodity and other forms of the capital relation involve specific expressions of the core contradiction--hence, one or more linked dilemmas between their use-value and value [or exchange-value] aspects. 6. These contradictions are incompressible: at best their effects can be displaced or deferred through spatio-temporal fixes that are also social and institutional. 7. Money as a social relation has a key role in mediating the profit-oriented, marketmediated accumulation process (but can get disconnected for a time from the 'real economy', creating possibilities for monetary crisis). 8. Competition (and, hence, in part, entrepreneurship) is central to capital's dynamic: its foci include (but are not limited to) innovations to reduce socially necessary labour time, socially necessary turnover time, and naturally necessary reproduction time. 9. Market forces alone cannot secure all the contingently necessary conditions of expanded capitalist reproduction (even ignoring the dual nature of the labour process as concrete labour and a process of valorisation). 10. Capital accumulation has major extra-economic conditions of existence in other social forms, institutions, organisations and social practices, which must be included as crucial factors of power and domination in its analysis. Marx (1967) identified an essential contradiction in the 'cell-form' of the CMP, namely the commodity, between its exchange- and use-value aspects. On this basis he unfolded the complex dynamic of the CMP--including the necessity of periodic crises and their creatively destructive role in renewing accumulation. I suggest that all forms of the capital relation (in so far as revenues derive from formal market-mediation, thereby excluding profits from different forms of political capitalism, such as predatory capitalism, force and domination, or unusual deals with political authority), embody different but interconnected versions of this basic contradiction (on political capitalism, see Weber 2009). These impact differentially on (different fractions of) capital and on (different categories and strata of) labour at different times and places (Jessop 1983, 2011). Thus, productive capital is both abstract value in motion (notably in the form of realised profits available for reinvestment) and a concrete stock of already invested time- and place-specific assets in the course of being valorised; the worker is both an abstract unit of labour-power substitutable by other such units (or, indeed, other factors of production) and a concrete individual (or, indeed, collective workforce) with specific skills, knowledge and creativity; the wage is a cost of production and a source of demand; money functions as an international currency exchangeable against other currencies (ideally in stateless space) and as national money circulating within national or plurinational spaces subject to state control; land functions both as rent-generating property (based on the private appropriation of nature) and as a more or less renewable and recyclable natural resource (modified by past actions); and knowledge is the basis of intellectual property rights and a collective resource (the intellectual commons). Likewise, the state is not only responsible for securing key conditions for the valorisation of capital and the reproduction of labour-power as a fictitious commodity, but also has overall political responsibility for maintaining social cohesion in a socially divided, pluralistic society. Taxation is an unproductive deduction from private revenues (profits of enterprise, wages, interest, and rents) and a means to finance collective investment and consumption. And so on (see Jessop 2002).

The tension between the two co-existing poles, each of which is a naturally necessary or inherent feature of a given contradiction and, indeed, which together define it in their opposition, generates strategic dilemmas on how to handle the contradiction. For example, does--or should--the state treat the (social) wage mainly as a source of demand or a cost of production, or attempt to reconcile these aspects? The first case is illustrated in the Keynesian welfare national state (or KWNS), the second in neoliberal austerity politics or export-led growth, and the third in welfare regimes based on 'flexicurity'. Analogous arguments hold for other contradictions and dilemmas. The plurality of contradictions and their interconnections, the possibilities of handling them at different sites, scales, and time horizons, etc., creates significant scope for agency, strategies and tactics to affect economic trajectories. How they are handled also shapes the form of subsequent crises, but does not determine the nature of subsequent regimes, which also depend on the formal and material adequacy outcome of path-shaping initiatives.

An important caveat is necessary here. To paraphrase Marx in the 1857 introduction, 'there is no contradiction in general, there is also no general contradiction': each contradiction has its own aspects and is actualised in its own ways in particular institutional and spatio-temporal contexts, giving rise to a complex, overdetermined, contradictory and multiply dilemmatic ensemble of social relations. In strategic-relational terms, institutions have their own distinctive discursive-material selectivities, favouring some actors, alliances, identities, interests, projects, spatio-temporal horizons, etc.; they are associated with specific technologies of governance; and they are articulated into specific institutional orders and ensembles that create specific forms of domination. While many institutions are related to fundamental categories of the capital relation, their specific forms and logics are irreducible to these basic categories. This approach to institutions is essential to understanding accumulation regimes, their modes of regulatian-cum-governance, and their integration into broader societal configurations. Some first-generation Parisian regulation theorists sometimes combined institutional analysis with a formanalytical account of the contradictions...

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