Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Resurrecting 'The Family': Interring 'The State'

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Resurrecting 'The Family': Interring 'The State'

Article excerpt

In The Fiscal Crisis of the State, O'Connor (1973) maintains that states in capitalist societies have two essential roles; accumulation and legitimation. States help create the conditions for private profit-making by providing roads, sewers, highways, utilities, communication services, airports, research and an educated workforce. They help ensure social harmony by providing a justice system and services for workers, and by promoting an appropriate ideology. These two roles are intimately linked, as states vary their supports for businesses and for workers, as well as their stated values, to accommodate changes in the needs of organizations seeking profit.

Writing in 1973, O'Connor argued that because states were paying for more and more of the costs of accumulation while continuing to allow the profits to be collected and controlled privately, they were headed for trouble. State expenses increase more rapidly than revenues. The resulting crisis is "exacerbated by the private appropriation of state power for particularistic ends," with disputes among these particularist interests resolved in the political process rather than in the market (O'Connor, 1973:9). Because the process is a political one reflecting the quite different strengths of these interests, "there is great deal of waste, duplication, and overlapping of state projects and services" (O'Connor, 1973:9). This not only means that the costs increase unnecessarily, but also that states are open to attack on the grounds of inefficiency. Increasingly, states are unable to meet citizens' needs or to criticisms from a variety of sources.

Twenty years later, there can be little doubt that states are indeed facing a fiscal crisis, and that revenues have not kept up with expenses. But, In the Public Interest, Martin (1993) argues that what is now called the debt crisis is largely the result of international bank and private investment practices, rather than primarily the result of national political decision-making. Nevertheless, these international organizations are blaming national states and using the debt as a means of demanding that states withdraw from both the ownership of the infrastructure and the provision of services to workers. Instead, organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are calling for the privatization of government-owned enterprises and major cut-backs in the provision of services, on the grounds that they are too costly and inefficient. In the process, the "ability of nation-states to protect and promote the public interest has been undermined and the authority of their citizens usurped" (Martin, 1993:9). Although the particular responses to these pressures vary with the nation and the resistance of different groups within them, there is a remarkable similarity in responses among Northern countries. Everywhere, states are cutting back and the free market is praised.

Although O'Connor recognized that the processes he identified work to the disadvantage of women and racial minorities in the formal economy and create large `surplus populations' outside this market, he did not examine the impact on households (O'Connor, 1973:243-246). Martin (1993:11) acknowledged that cutbacks in the provision of services will "leave gaps to be filled by private or voluntary organizations or gaps within family or community (usually filled by women)." But he, too, failed to explore more fully the consequences for households of the attack on state power and provision.

Yet it is clear that these developments have enormous implications for households in general and for women in particular. Indeed, the theory needs to be revised to include a third role for the state (Armstrong and Armstrong, 1991). In addition to encouraging accumulation and legitimation, states also play a critical part in structuring what is provided for publicly in the market and privately in households, in who does the work in these spheres and in how it is done. …

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