Is The State the Problem or the Solution?


“Since its founding fathers, the United States has always been torn between two traditions, the activist policies of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) and Thomas Jefferson´s (1743- 1826) maxim that the “government that govern least, governs best”. With time and usual American pragmatism, this rivalry has been resolved by putting the Jeffersonians in charge of the rhetoric and the Hamiltonians in charge of policy”

(Erik Reinert)

This post contains some free reflections about the State and its importance within the social dynamic, after I finished to read the amazing book written by Mazucatto tite “The Enterprenaurial State: Debunking public vs. private sector myths”. Sorry, Reaganomics but even under the contemporary capitalist scholars discussion the State rather that just being important, it is the real catalyst of the Digital Revolution and Knowledge society.

Historically, the State purpose has been under big discussions in the different social realms. Among the political forces there has been a big struggle for increase or decrease the State role in the social life. Conservative forces have struggle for a minimum size State restricted just for given security to citizens and enforcement of the laws. As contrast, the reformist forces have struggle for strong State capable to protect their citizens since the birth until their deaths.

From a theoretical perspective this rich debate regarding the State role appears in the different political theory traditions. According to the Liberals the State has to be provide basic goods and act in relation to a procedural notion of Justice (Rawls). The anarcho-capitalist scholars have developed the primacy of markets instead of any other social instance, so that the State has to work for improving the functioning of those markets (Nozick). The Marxist tradition has divide between Lenin approach whereas the State is just the Executive Committee of Ruling Elites interests and rights, on the other hand more critical perspectives whereas the State is the result of force correlations within a Society (Gramsci, Jessop, Miliband).

During the 80´s, this debate was appropriate sum in the famous Ronald Reagan rhetoric in the sense that the Government is will be always the problem, and never part of the solution. Underlying this notion supposedly the countries has to shift from a post war welfare policy (interventionist State) to the absolutism of the free markets. In spite of the rhetoric use by Reagan his policies were always interventionist in support of USA capitalist historical cycles, expanding military budget and their big corporations interests around the world.

In these sense, Canadian scholars Leo Patnich and Sam Gindin has shown with strong historical evidence how the State has been always the backbone for the development of US capitalism during the last 300 years. Beyond from being a stranger to US reality the interventionist and protectionist State idea has been the most American genuine paradigm. For example, since the Jefferson government it was inaugurated the idea of the protectionist policy in order to granted the development of the “infant industry”.

The “Entrepreneurial State” paradigm could be situated among this historical and theoretical debates regarding how to conceive a State in front of society needs. I think the most accurate expression to describe how really works and should work the State came from the Gramscian reflection of this phenomenon. Gramsci idea of the State it’s a conception pointed out that the State it’s the result of the correlation of force in between the Civil Society and Political Society. In these sense, it is more usefully to analyze the State role from a complex approach were the State could be a mix of problem and solution depending of material historical conditions. A direct consequence of this paradigm is to debunking the public vs private sector frontiers.

Mazzucato sum very well this debate stating “it is necessary to build a theory of the State´s role in shaping and creating markets- more in line with the work of Karl Polanyi (1944) who emphasized how the capitalist market has from the start been heavily shaped by State actions”.