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Contribution to Collected Edition

Governing Capital, Labor and Nature in a Changing World


Baccaro,  Lucio
Politische Ökonomie von Wachstumsmodellen, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;
Département de Sociologie, Université de Genève, Switzerland;

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Balachandran, G., Mallard, G., Arewa, O., Baccaro, L., Büthe, T., Nightingale, A., et al. (2018). Governing Capital, Labor and Nature in a Changing World. In International Panel on Social Progress (Ed.), Rethinking Society for the 21st Century: Report of the International Panel on Social Progress, Vol. 2: Political Regulation, Governance, and Societal Transformations (pp. 491-522). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002E-8249-8
This chapter attempts a broad analytical compass for surveying the main actors, institutions and instruments governing our world. Despite its seeming ubiquity, governance is a relatively new expression in this context suggestive both of new modes of exercising power, and an enhanced focus on ordering a world undergoing rapid change. Speaking generally governance may be understood as the exercise of power organized around multiple dispersed sites operating through transnational networks of actors, public as well as private, and national, regional as well as local. The turn to governance is often held to be coeval if not conjoined to profound changes in the meaning and nature of government associated with the ascendancy of ‘neo-liberal’ ideas and precepts. This has had significant implications for how governance tends to be understood. Critics associate it directly with the changing role of states in the economic and social sphere. Transnational governance, in particular, is criticized for foregrounding the priorities of corporate investors often to the detriment of social or environmental goals, subordinating principles of ‘comparative’ or ‘cooperative’ advantage to ‘competitive’ advantage, and promoting microregulatory forms of regulation over strategic or structurally-focused interventions (such as industrial policy). Associated shifts trace states’ powers, otherwise a touchstone of sovereignty, being increasingly negotiated with transnational private actors and international financial institutions (IFIs), and placed under external jurisdictions. The turn to governance tends also to framed, whether directly or directly, justifiably or otherwise, alongside cuts in the public provisioning of health, education, housing, and social expenditures wherever they may have taken place, a parallel proliferation of managerial controls, and to governments contracting out public services to private and quasi-private agencies, or relinquishing them to the voluntary sector. At the risk of oversimplifying its critics’ views, if modern governments describe rule by/of citizens, governance describes rule over subjects. This chapter maps a rather more fluid and differentiated landscape of governance across the five areas it surveys, i.e. finance, investment, trade, labor and environment. In finance, while regulation may appear to have become more transnational and to an extent even voluntary, deregulatory outcomes have reconfigured the nature of risk and the cognitive and policy frameworks for dealing with it. At the same time a growing risk of states having to foot the ultimate bill may still become a point of departure for more differentiated regulatory approaches. On the other hand, not only are environmental agreements continued to be implemented and enforced at national and sub-national scales, the ascendency of market interventions and transnational institutions here has taken place in parallel with—and sometimes through mutual cooptation of—other kinds of interventions including those for promoting decentralization and community control over resources. Trends in labor regulation may also reflect individual state choices more than direct transnational pressures, or run contrary to the preferences of specialized international organizations in the domain. Even in the controversial sphere of investment treaties, there is considerable ongoing fluidity with regard to norms, jurisdiction, and actors within and between national and international arenas. Thus, upon closer inspection and with the benefit of a more domain-specific approach, we may not necessarily observe a sweeping or uniform shift, but more a mosaic of regulatory frameworks, quite disparate trends with regard to their negotiation, implementation and impact, and a future rife with possibilities.