The British Regulatory State: High Modernism and Hyper-Innovation

By Michael Moran | Go to book overview

7 From Stagnation to Fiasco: the Age of the Regulatory State

THE TELEOLOGY OF THE REGULATORY STATE

The single most important feature of the British regulatory state emerges when we consider it comparatively and historically: a governing system that was uniquely stable among the other great capitalist nations for the half-century after 1918 has been uniquely pioneering during the 1970s to the 1990s. This has driven reform in two directions: towards hyper-innovation and towards synoptic surveillance, central control, and the colonization by state regulatory agencies of once independent spheres of civil society. There are irrationalities, perversities, and contradictions in this process, and at the root of all these lies the teleology of the new regulatory state.

To speak of the teleology of the state is not a mere metaphysical flourish. Historical fate is being worked out—or, rather, a series of fates, and because they are multiple fates outcomes are not foreclosed and room is left for the influence of human agency. Fate and agency are at work because in the 1970s three great, linked, historical enterprises reached exhaustion. By the start of that decade, imperialism was a totally spent force: thus ended the project that had been a rich source of symbolic capital for domestic elites, offering a vision of a hierarchical society and polity, and a providential historical mission. In the same decade, the legacy of Britain's pioneering role in industrialism was finally exhausted. The end of the long boom revealed the deep competitive problems of the economy and, more immediately, pitched economic management into crisis. Finally, in part because of the exhaustion of imperialism and of the legacy of pioneering industrialism, club government likewise reached exhaustion; and thus ended what had been a highly successful strategy to equip Britain with a system of government that could protect elites from formal democracy, and from the social and cultural forces that lay behind that democracy.

What succeeded all this—notably in its fullest and most self-conscious expression, Thatcherism—now gave to the teleology of the state a profoundly modernizing cast. Substantively, the state turned to the reconstruction of institutions and economic practices, with the aim of raising competitiveness against global competition. Thus, finally developed the full germination of the 'national efficiency' movement whose original seed was sown in the first debates about

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The British Regulatory State: High Modernism and Hyper-Innovation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The British Regulatory State iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: Images of the Regulatory State 12
  • 3: Creating Club Regulation 38
  • 4: Transforming Self-Regulation 67
  • 5: Regulating Privatization 95
  • 6: Regulating and Colonizing Public Worlds 124
  • 7: From Stagnation to Fiasco 155
  • Notes 184
  • References 205
  • Index 231
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