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Reviewed by:
  • The End of the Developmental State? ed. by Michelle Williams
  • Vishnu Padayachee (bio)
Michelle Williams (ed) (2014) The End of the Developmental State? Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

This edited volume is the outcome of a conference that took place in South Africa in May 2008, on the eve of the global financial crisis. Though long in production, the questions raised in the collection of papers published here by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press in 2014 remain valid despite the fact that some of its urgency and potential may have been undercut by a revival and reconsolidation of variants of neo-liberalism across many parts of the developed and emerging market economies. Such a ‘recovery’ was faster than many on the left had imagined or believed possible. Some had even dared to think about the end of neo-liberal capitalism, even of capitalism itself. But this return of neo-liberalism, may in fact well justify a collection such as this devoted to a critical analysis of the role of the state today. In the absence of any coherent alternative policy framework following the crisis and in the context of intensifying financial globalisation, the crisis retains a tight grip over global economic performance. Slow growth in many parts of the world, but especially in Japan and Europe, increasing unemployment, the persistence of high levels of poverty, the spectre of dangerously high levels inequality which Thomas Piketty among others has highlighted, all these and their attendant social tensions combine to ensure that the crisis is still with us today, and the search for progressive policy solutions remains a critical yet elusive task.

Michelle Williams has done an excellent job of pulling together the initial workshop papers and setting them within a useful and balanced framework. The task that many progressives still have to engage with is that of understanding the role of the state in these times of crisis and attempting to [End Page 66] do so under the very changed economic and political conditions that obtain at both the global and local levels. The aim, either explicitly or implicitly, is to work towards some sort of alternative ‘model’ of economic and social development that offers richer possibilities to meet these contemporary challenges, for neo-liberal models of capitalism in whatever variety they exist has proven to have no real answers. How to make ‘national priorities’ a driving force in economic development; can a national capitalist class committed to such national development priorities possibly emerge; can such a class (or national bourgeoisie) work in a dynamic interaction with a reconstituted (development) state and an active civil society to reinvigorate economic and social development while intrinsically addressing the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality? These are among the issues that the editor and the authors of the different chapters in this book grapple with.

Four factors, Michelle Williams argues in her first substantive chapter, constitute the key challenges that have to be incorporated into any new understanding of what such a role for the state should be in our contemporary conditions. These are economic restructuring, domestic politics, epistemic shifts and ecological limits. These four conditions are assessed with varying emphasis across case studies of ‘developmental’ states in South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, China, South Africa, Brazil and India. In addition to these case studies of ‘developmental states’ there is a chapter which examines the domestic politics of the UK government’s engagement with renewable energy development; a chapter on the politics of development in the Indian state of Kerala; and an inspiring final chapter by one of the leading late twentieth century contributors to the literature on the state, Peter Evans. I do not intend in this brief review to assess all of the chapters.

Williams begins her own chapter with a useful summary of development theory in historical perspective. Her survey begins with post-war economic growth theories (including the Harrod-Domar model with its emphasis on creating internal conditions favourable to external aid and capital inflows to compensate for low domestic savings) through to modernisation theory, various ‘radical’ approaches sharing a critical view of modernisation and its notion of ‘convergence’ such as dependency, and world systems theories. It...


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pp. 66-71
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