- The BRICs and Emerging Economies in Comparative Perspective: political economy, liberalisation and institutional change ed. by Uwe Becker
About a decade after the collapse of the long-running Soviet model there emerged, then burgeoned, a literature devoted to the questions of how and why the advanced capitalist economies, far from converging towards some single (neo-liberal) type, were in fact pulling apart from one another in many respects. The principal contributors to this literature and debate are Peter Hall and David Soskice (2001). They distinguished between two broad varieties of capitalism (VOC), defined in the main by different institutional arrangements. They labelled the one a Liberal Market Economy model (LME), corresponding to what some have called an Anglo-American variety; and a Co-ordinated Market Economy, associated with Germany, Japan and South Korea. Matters related to capital-labour relations, finance systems, corporate governance, inter-firm relations and intra-firm dynamics were the issues that came under scrutiny. The strength of the VOC approach lay precisely at the level of inter-firm and intra-firm developments, and in analyses of corporate governance and to some extent in comparative analyses of capital-labour relations and to a lesser degree, finance. There is no doubt that this debate was important and set the tone and defined the lines of argument for much intellectual discussion in Europe and North America for a decade thereafter.
But criticisms of the different strands of the VOC approach also grew. Chief among these were its failure to deal adequately with macroeconomic [End Page 88] policy dimensions, and with the impact of globalisation, history, class and politics on the institutional and other changes that were unfolding in these countries. I have argued elsewhere that there are notable absences in the VOC approach to a deeper consideration of the class relations underpinning capitalism and the historically and socially different national and international forms that it adopts. This is not simply a matter of saying that the VOC approach is not Marxist but that it is relatively, if not absolutely, negligent of other approaches, especially from across other social sciences, that are both standard, richer, and are more or less concerned with the same problems as the VOC approach. Where is Polanyi, for example, as far as institutionally finessing the relations between state and market? And, like the post-Washington Consensus itself, where is the developmental state as a way of framing whether economic interventions and political conditions are conducive to economic performance or not?
Also significantly that literature did not initially engage with what was unfolding outside the advanced capitalist economies, in the new economic giants of China and India, and in other emerging countries among the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, later South Africa) and also in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico.1
Andreas Nölke and his colleagues at the University of Goethe-Frankfurt am Main have begun to fill this gap through posing and answering two questions in respect of a number of emerging market economies, including South Africa:
• which institutional configurations lead to successful economic performance in emerging economies?
• and, which varieties of capitalism exist in emerging economies? (see eg Nolke and Claar, 2013)
Uwe Becker’s edited volume engages with developments in many of these emerging countries, and although it references the VOC approach as a point of take- off, it employs a looser but more flexible and effective ‘comparative capitalisms’ approach, rooted in political economy, rather than (new) institutional economics. The book has two initial chapters which include contextual and framing discussions of institutional changes and economic performance in the BRICS and in some other countries in eastern and southern Europe. These chapters also set out the basics of the VOC approach as well as a trenchant critique of this body of work, especially in so far as its value in making sense of the rise and growing power of the BRICS [End Page 89] nations. Despite many things in common, including size (population, GDP),2 it is apparent that there remain major differences amongst...