Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Contextualizing Political Ecology in Europe within a Global Regulation Approach

Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Contextualizing Political Ecology in Europe within a Global Regulation Approach

Article excerpt

Alain Lipietz

Former Member of European Parliament


Chicago, IL, 12 January 2017

Alain Lipietz is a French ecologist, economist, politician, and member of the French Green Party. He served as a member of the European Parliament from 1999-2009. He was the Chairperson of the Delegation for Andean Community and of the Trade and Sustainable Development intergroup and vice-chair of the Euro-Latin American Parliament. Born in 1947, Alain Lipietz was trained as an engineer at the Polytechnic School ofParis and National School ofBridges and Roads, but then turned to economic research. His main areas of interest are macroeconomics, social policy, and international and regional economics. He has written some 20 books translated into many languages and hundreds of articles. He wrote the synthesis of international research on capital-labor relations for the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) and the synthesis of an international survey of the Rio Earth Summit (1992) for UNESCO.

Brown Journal of World Affairs: For readers who are less familiar with your background, can you elaborate on the work you've done as an activist and researcher and on the specific work you've done as a member of parliament and of the French Green Party?

Lipietz: Well I was a "post-68 activist."1 While in École Polytechnique of Paris, I participated fully in the movement. In fact, I had been politicized a little before with the anti-Vietnam War and the anti-Algerian War efforts. I started, immediately after 1968, my research in economics. For several reasons, I focused on the field's spatial aspects: regional, urban, international economics and sometimes macroeconomics or mathematical economics.2 As an activist, I was involved in workers' movements in France: I became particularly interested in movements with a local focus, along with the political science of regional problems.

So I developed a competency in the regional aspects of politics and economics. Later, I developed, with some friends, what we call the "regulation approach," which is well-known now in the United States, Canada, Japan, and elsewhere. It's an approach that explores why there has been no crisis in capitalist economies (regardless of the paradoxes inherent to the system). It was a form of evolution from classical Marxism.3 What we call regulation in French is not exactly the English word "regulation." It belongs to the vocabulary of cybernetics: how it is that something-a simple tension or a complex system-does not explode. When you have a steam machine with pressure in it, how do you prevent the pressure from increasing too much? Even industrial contest can be a form of regulation: when there is success on one side, there is resistance on the other side, and that will lead to a form of equilibrium.

What was very important, and is still important in that approach, is that it permits us to understand that capitalism doesn't work the same way in all regions and periods. It permits a form of periodization of history, and it permits one to understand the specificities of regions within the world economy. We focused on the dominant model in force from 1945 to 1973-that is, just before the stagflation crisis of the mid-1970s-which we labeled "Fordism." We also focused on why, eventually, the crisis occurred. Fordism is named after Henry Ford, of course. Fordist capitalism involved paying workers fairly so that they would be able to buy the products that they were producing.

Of course, there are international relations aspects to the problem. The regulation approach connected a lot of things-technological paradigms, forms of partition, of value added, and of progresses in productivity, institutions, world affairs-so it was a very useful tool. And of course, as an activist, if you believe that there are differences between regions and between periods of time in capitalism, you will no longer think about "The Revolution"-you will think about ways to to get from one form of regulation to a better form of regulation. …

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