Many scholars believe we live in an era of neoliberalism, of privatisation and deregulation, where markets rule. While it is true markets have become more vibrant, regulation has actually also become more vibrant. This is why the period since the 1970s can be described as an era of regulatory capitalism. This regulatory capitalism is highly variegated from region to region, within and between countries.

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States can be thought of as providing, distributing and regulating. They bake cakes, slice them, and proffer pieces as inducements to steer events. Regulation is that large subset of governance that is about steering the flow of events, as opposed to providing and distributing. Of course when regulators regulate, they often steer the providing and distributing that regulated actors supply.

My work builds on Jacint Jordana and David Levi-Faur’s (2003, 2004) systematic evidence that, since 1980, states have become rather more preoccupied with the regulation part of governance and less with providing. For example, look at this dynamic data supplied by David Levi-Faur and Jacint Jordana showing the diffusion of new business regulatory agencies:

Regulatory agencies diffusion

Agency creation and reform

This globalization of regulation (see also Global Business Regulation with Peter Drahos) occurs at the same time as a lot of privatization and a growth of competition regulation that renders markets more vibrant. The pattern in the above data describes a rise of regulatory capitalism rather than the ‘regulatory state’ because markets get stronger at the same time as the state grows stronger. Yet non-state regulation has grown even more rapidly. This is another reason why it is not best to conceive of the era in which we live as one of the regulatory state, but of regulatory capitalism. This involves expansion of the scope, arenas, instruments and depth of regulation.

Levi-Faur (2005) identifies transitions from laissez-faire capitalism (1800s-1930s) to welfare capitalism (1930s-1970s) to regulatory capitalism (1970s on). Much earlier transitions began from feudalism to more welfarist and regulatory capitalism.

KEY REFERENCES (all available for free pdf download by clicking on the title)

A current theme in my work is about commodification of things that are better not commodified. Private military organizations and the privatization of gambling and tobacco markets have all proved disastrous. Markets in Vice, Markets in Virtue and Strategic Socialism, Strategic Privatisation and Crises are about how more vibrant competition policy increases the efficient production of both goods and bads. They are about how regulation might enable even more marketized production of goods alongside better regulation of bads. Regulatory capitalism is a world with more commodified domination, more regulation of domination and more networked resistance to domination.