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Reclaiming Public Ownership

Reclaiming Public Ownership

Professor Andrew Cumbers


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*** Winner of the Myrdal Prize for Evolutionary Political Economy *** The last few years have seen the spectacular failure of market fundamentalism in Europe and the US, with a seemingly never-ending spate of corporate scandals and financial crises. As the environmental limits and socially destructive tendencies of the current profit-driven economic model become daily more self-evident, there is a growing demand for a fairer economic alternative, as evidenced by the mounting campaigns against global finance and the politics of austerity. Reclaiming Public Ownership tackles these issues head on, going beyond traditional leftist arguments about the relative merits of free markets and central planning to present a radical new conception of public ownership, framed around economic democracy and public participation in economic decision-making. Cumbers argues that a reconstituted public ownership is central to the creation of a more just and sustainable society. This book is a timely reconsideration of a long-standing but essential topic.
Andrew Cumbers is professor of geographical political economy at the University of Glasgow.
'Twenty-first century capitalism has dramatized an apparent paradox: while markets and private enterprise seem to be driving forces behind much innovation and spectacular growth (as in China and India), severe recessions and financial crises have led to major interventions by the state, including public ownership of some huge banks. This contradiction is the springboard for Andrew Cumbers' new book. His argument is controversial, but his examination of the issues shows that the great economic paradox of our century cannot be tackled adequately without overturning much dogma on both the traditional left and the free-market right.' Geoffrey Hodgson, research professor at University of Hertfordshire Business School 'In this provocative and timely book, Andrew Cumbers makes the case not only for reclaiming but also rethinking questions of public ownership. This means going beyond those flat-footed, standardized, one-size-fits-all models that have been so thoroughly denigrated by neoliberal critics, to embrace and then work with the full spectrum of solidaristic and socially oriented alternatives.' Jamie Peck, author of Constructions of Neoliberal Reason 'Paraphrasing, Winston Churchill suggested that capitalism is a terrible system until you consider the alternatives. He was at least (first) half right but, drawing upon a range of arguments and historical experience, Cumbers develops a wide-ranging, sophisticated and innovative riposte to the second half wrong, demonstrating the potential, even necessity, of alternatives in new forms of public ownership.' Ben Fine, professor of economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 'In arguing that public ownership needs to be radically rethought in order to be relevant and appropriate to the global economy of the twenty-first century, Reclaiming Public Ownership manages to fit in an improbable amount of scholarly depth and rigour across its 228 pages. It is exceptionally well written throughout, and should appeal to a wide readership. [...] Without doubt [it] will provoke and inspire action on the diagnoses and proposals it makes. It will certainly inspire new thoughts, responses and critical agendas to emerge. And it is for these reasons that I recommend the book without any reserve or hesitation.' Richard J. White, Sheffield Hallam University, for Antipode

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
About the author i
Title page iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Tables and figures vi
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction: an unexpected guest – the return of public ow­nership 1
In search of an alternative discourse 3
Some definitional issues: public rather than common ownership? 6
Part One: Public ownership and its discontents 9
1 | Public ownership as state ownership: the post-1945 legacy 11
Introduction 11
The British experience with nationalization 13
Nationalization elsewhere in the developed industrial economies 22
The experience of state ownership under communist regimes 28
State-owned enterprises and developmentalism in the East Asian miracle 33
Evaluating the legacy of state-centred public ownership 35
2 | The neoliberal onslaught and the politics of privatization 38
Putting privatization in context: neoliberalism as a project to re-establish class control 39
The Thatcherite privatization project: from property-owning democracy to the private accumulation of public wealth 46
The effects of British privatization policy 50
So, who were the winners out of privatization? 52
Table 2.1 Changes in salaries of directors following privatization 53
The globalization of privatization 55
Figure 2.1 Ownership of share capital in the UK’s quoted public limited companies, 1963–2008 56
Figure 9.1 Wind power electricity generation (MW) in Denmark, 1986–2008 204
Scaling up privatization to a global policy paradigm 57
The ongoing politics of privatization: continuing struggles to reclaim the economy 60
3 | Coming to terms with Hayek: markets, planning and economic democracy 62
Introduction 62
Hayekian-inspired critiques of public ownership as state centralized planning 63
Addressing Hayekian concerns from the left 67
Countering agoraphobia through appropriative justice: Burczak’s new theory of market socialism 70
The democratic limits to the post-Hayekian view of socialism 73
Public ownership, pluralism and democracy 77
Conclusions 80
Part Two: The return of public ownership 83
4 | Financial crisis and the rediscovery of the state in the neoliberal heartland 85
The social democratic embrace of neoliberalism 88
Table 4.1 Privatization proceeds and left parties in power in European countries during the 1990s 91
Common sense, convenient myths and the contested politics of privatization? 92
The financial crisis and the return of public ownership 96
Table 4.2 Government support (loans) and share purchases of nationalized banks 97
Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor: the state underwrites neoliberalism’s contradictions 100
An alternative view: a brief history of mutualism and finance as a collective endeavour 103
Conclusions 106
5 | Public ownership and an alternative political economy in Latin America 108
Rolling back neoliberalism: a continental rebellion against privatization 109
Water as an ‘uncooperative commodity’ and the return of public ownership 112
Table 5.1 Multinationals that have withdrawn from the Latin American water sector 112
‘Twenty-first-century socialism’ and the Bolivarian participatory process 113
Recovering sovereignty of natural resources: nationalization in Bolivia under Morales 116
Renationalization and the prospects for economic democracy 118
Conclusions 121
6 | Alternative globalizations and the discourse of the commons 123
Global resistance and the resurgence of an anti-capitalist politics 124
Box 6.1 The demands of the Bamako Appeal: a manifesto for a democratic globalism 125
The emergence of an agenda around the commons 126
Practising the commons 130
The commons, the state and the limits to anti-capitalism from above 132
The ‘(im)possibility of autonomy’ and the limits to commons thinking 136
Practising the commons in, against and outside the state 139
Conclusions 141
Part Three: Remaking public ownership 143
7 | Remaking and rescaling public ownership 145
Introduction 145
Principles for a democratized and deliberative public ownership 145
Making space for public ownership 155
A preliminary sketch of a publicly owned economy in the twenty-first century 162
Table 7.1 An evaluation of the effectiveness of different forms of public ownership in achieving desired objectives 165
Table 7.2 Schematic depiction of public ownership types by economic activity 168
Conclusions 171
8 | State ownership, deliberative democracy and elite interests in Norway’s oil bonanza 173
Introduction 173
The Norwegian ‘model’ of oil development 174
Ownership and control of resources for ‘the whole of society’ 176
Oil development in an active and deliberative democracy 178
The oil-industrial complex, a national competitiveness agenda and the neoliberal turn 185
Contesting neoliberalism and the renewal of democratic engagement 187
Conclusions 190
9 | Decentred public ownership and the Danish wind power revolution 192
Introduction 192
From oil dependence to renewables role model 193
Decentred public ownership and institutional supports in the emergence of the Danish wind energy sector 195
Table 9.1 Structure of the electricity power generation and distribution network in Denmark 199
Emergent tensions, scalar politics and the broader geographies of renewable energy discourse 200
Figure 9.1 Wind power electricity generation in Denmark, 1986–2008 204
Alternative futures, deliberative decision-making and the cooperative ethos 206
Conclusions 208
Conclusion 211
Beyond twentieth-century utopias to an open and deliberative politics of public ownership 212
A commitment to decentred and dispersed economic decision-making 214
Continuing to struggle ‘in and against’ the state 217
Remaking the case for public ownership 218
Notes 221
Bibliography 229
Index 245
About Zed Books 255