Intervention—“Debating Contemporary State Capitalism: A Reply to Carroll and Jarvis”

Ilias Alami (Uppsala University), Adam D. Dixon (Maastricht University) and Emma Mawdsley (University of Cambridge)


In a recent intervention in Antipode, Carroll and Jarvis (2022) offer a lively critical engagement with our work on contemporary state capitalism as well as the broader field of state capitalism studies. They focus on three of our recent contributions (Alami and Dixon 2020a, 2020b; Alami et al. 2021) as a point of entry to criticise what they refer to as the “New” State Capitalism (NSC) thesis, that is to say, a series of assumptions about “new/re-emerging state assertiveness over and within markets and capitalism” (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 2) and “a resurgence of the ‘visibility of the state’” (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 3) at the current historical juncture.[1]

Their overarching argument is that scholars of NSC overstate the degree to which the state is making a comeback and that care needs to be taken in terms of framing the particular phenomena under investigation. Specifically, they ask for “prioritising the power and leverage of social forces operating under patterns of accumulation characterised by more-integrated-than-ever-before global economic-market relations and the concentration of productive and financial capital” (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 1).

Carroll and Jarvis raise several important points, notably concerning the role of contemporary state transformations in deepening competitive market imperatives, and the extent to which this has been neglected or downplayed by scholars of state capitalism. They also criticise the broader field of state capitalism studies for remaining stuck in unproductive dichotomies (such as state versus market); for wrongly assuming that the current “return” of the state is upending markets in any significant manner; for failing to appropriately theorise the state and its relation to accumulation; for paying insufficient attention to power relations and social forces; for elevating exceptions such as China to systemic theory; and for overstating the claim of historical novelty (the “new” in NSC). As such, they effectively echo critiques that we have ourselves formulated in several of our papers on state capitalism (as they themselves note in passing).

However, a significant limitation of their intervention stems from the strategy they adopt. Indeed, in considering our work as representative of the broader field of state capitalism studies (which it is not), they tend to conflate some of the foundational claims of the field with our own arguments (despite the fact that we have criticised at length such foundational claims and taken strong positions against them). This results in a significant misrepresentation of our arguments and of our approach to what we call the “problematique of state capitalism”. In this response, we therefore propose to clear up any misunderstanding concerning our position, which, perhaps ironically, is much closer to that of Carroll and Jarvis than it is to the wider field of state capitalism studies, both theoretically and politically. In doing so, we also identify areas where areas for productive debate could be opened up. We want to be clear, however, that in this riposte we are not (only) engaging in lively academic debate, but correcting what are a series of mis-representations of our work. This is disappointing because we pointed all of this out to Carroll and Jarvis ahead of publication (in September 2021!), to no effect. Academic disagreement is welcome and desirable, but distortions of our work are not.

Our main argument is as follows: the recent proliferation of state-sponsored corporate entities across the world economy (such as development and policy banks, state-owned enterprises, sovereign wealth funds, and state-supported national champions) as well as the emergence of muscular forms of statism (such as economic patriotism, strategic protectionism, techno-nationalism, neo-mercantilism, various forms of industrial policy and national development plans, and a renewed focus on infrastructure, and tools like blended finance) may well have been so far largely embedded in the mainstream “politics of competitiveness” (Cammack), “zombie neoliberalism” (Peck), the emergence of a “Wall Street Consensus” (Gabor), the cultivation of “regulatory states” (Jayasuriya), and the general deepening of market-rule in development (Carroll and Jarvis). They nonetheless deserve our critical and analytical attention insofar as they constitute an important set of transformations in the morphology of present-day capitalism. Furthermore, they represent points of friction, tension, and conflicts (along class and geopolitical lines) which will shape the future of capitalism. Construed as a set of critical interrogations concerning this changing role of the state in contemporary capitalism, the category state capitalism can importantly contribute to this critical-analytical task.

In the following reply, we draw on the three articles targeted by Carroll and Jarvis, but also refer to our wider corpus of work, to engage more fully with the ideas and arguments they set out. Ilias and Adam are the authors of most of the work cited, with Emma being a co-author of the Antipode piece.

State Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and Market Rule

Carroll and Jarvis scrutinise the claim that we are witnessing a nascent or perhaps even systemic challenge to neoliberalisation, market deepening, and financialisation, a claim that they attribute to us and to the broader field of state capitalism studies. We have made no such claim (and we certainly agree that it must be scrutinised)! Here is our position on the matter.

Let us start by underlining that we have argued at length that the relation between state capitalism and neoliberalism is not a zero-sum game. We have also explicitly argued against approaches that pit state capitalism against neoliberal capitalism, or those which associate the new state capitalism with a form of post-neoliberalism. Our own view on the matter has been informed by the work of scholars such as Haberly and Wójcik—who argue that we are witnessing a “market conforming, financial return-oriented state capitalist paradigm … not as a reaction to neoliberalism and globalization, but rather as a means for sustaining them” (2017: 258, 251)—and van Apeldoorn et al. (2012)—who argue that contemporary state capitalism promotes further neoliberalisation and is geared towards deepening commodification of labour and nature. We have made this very clear in our Competition & Change paper (Alami and Dixon 2020a). We have also argued in our Antipode paper (Alami et al. 2021) that contemporary state capitalism contributes to deepening the centrality of market rule (which Carroll and Jarvis note). For instance, in the conclusion, we write:

The deepening of financialisation, the extension of market-based finance, and the further entrenchment of the interests of Wall Street may well be an important political economic factor shaping the redefinition of the role of the state. We also agree that such re-articulation is ultimately geared towards entrenching the centrality of market rule in development. (Alami et al. 2021: 1313)

Our view is that we need a nuanced understanding of the relationship between the new state capitalism and neoliberalisation. We directly raised this question in the Competition & Change paper: “What is its [state capitalism] relationship with the current pattern of financialized globalization and neoliberalism as the dominant hegemonic project?” (Alami and Dixon 2020a: 71). In another paper, we write: “How can we explain its [state capitalism] contemporary rise, notably with respect to deep-rooted capitalist trends such as neoliberalisation, financialisation, and the internationalisation of production?” (Alami et al. 2022a: 246). We then add:

We argue that it would be a mistake to conceive of the rise of state capitalism as signalling the end of neoliberal hegemony, or as a threat to neoliberalism, not least because it has developed alongside mutations in neoliberal experimental statecraft … [T]his raises a number of questions concerning the relationship between contemporary state capitalism and neoliberalism … [D]oes the rise of state capitalism signal a sort of third moment of neoliberalisation (complementing, but not replacing, the “roll-back” and “roll-out” moments), in order to facilitate the current phase of reorganisation of global production? … [I]s state capitalism about the development of forms of statecraft which are distinct from neoliberalism, if not necessarily incompatible with it? … A more sustained conversation between studies of state capitalism and neoliberalism, then, would not only help specify the extent to which state-directed development, and its place in the global organisation of production are being reconfigured at the current historical juncture, it would also help outline the contours of contemporary neoliberal mutations. (Alami et al. 2022a: 256)

In another article, we started tackling the question of “the relation between present-day state capitalist impulses and other forms of statecraft (such as neoliberalism)” (Alami and Dixon 2021: 23) by focusing on labour and surplus populations. We write:

Across the North/South divide, disciplining and governing these populations rendered surplus, particularly in contexts of enduring austerity, has involved transformations in state power, from aggressive border militarisation, the development of systems of mass surveillance, incarceration and social control, the criminalisation and brutal repression of social movements, to the suspension of the rule of law and civil liberties … Although neglected by the near entire literature on state capitalism, we see these transformations in the technologies of labour containment, and particularly of surplus populations, as fundamental to contemporary state capitalism. The literature … has so far said little concerning the ways in which state capitalism may also be about the disciplining of a state’s own domestic social relations in line with the competitive imperatives of global capitalism. (Alami and Dixon 2021: 20-21)

In the pages of Economic Geography, we added:

[S]tate–capital hybrids constitute a major engine of global capitalism … They are increasingly integrated with global circuits of capital, including global networks of production, trade, finance, infrastructure, and corporate ownership. Their operations stretch across sectors and geographies, via foreign listing, international portfolio investment, and mergers and acquisitions. (Alami and Dixon 2022: 3)

In the same piece, we show how state–capital hybrids increasingly emulate the practices and organisational goals of comparable private-sector entities, adopt the techniques of modern finance, and resort to mixed-ownership. This purposive organisational adaptation allows leveraging the financial system and the development of liquid forms of state property, in order to facilitate the expansion of the latter into global circuits of capital.

In sum, we largely agree with Carroll and Jarvis’ (2022: 12) claim that what constitutes the “new” state capitalism “can be seen as efforts not to circumvent markets, but rather to join them and compete by catching up”. In fact, we have repeatedly made this point!

Where we seem to disagree, though, and this is where we should open a debate, is that despite the above point, we still believe that the transformations in the landscapes of state intervention that we document are still worth investigating and theorising. They deserve our critical attention, as we further discuss below.

Is China the “New” State Capitalism?

Our answer is an emphatic no. Carroll and Jarvis (2022: 7) write: “To what extent, then, can the ‘China model’ simply be held as the NSC [new state capitalism]? Are attempts to build new theory about NSC simply reflections on the ‘China model’ transposed into systemic or structural theory? To be sure, China is important, and its global footprint significant, but this does not make it a systemic power or its form of state-society-party organisation structurally transformative or replicable”.

Nowhere in our work do we argue that China is the new state capitalism. We have actually criticised this argument at length, as well as approaches that reduce state capitalism to the BRICS and other emerging economies (see our Competition & Change paper [Alami and Dixon 2020a], as well as the Political Geography paper [Alami and Dixon 2020b] where we systematically unpack the political and epistemological problems associated with this view). Carroll and Jarvis are entirely right that such approaches are indeed widespread in state capitalism studies, but they are incorrect in attributing this argument to us. In fact, in the Antipode paper (Alami et al. 2021) we are careful to emphasise that state capitalism is not reducible to the “China model”, however defined. Elsewhere, we also explicitly made the argument that state capitalism must not be understood through a methodological nationalist lens, and should be conceived as a national model of development (e.g. Alami and Dixon 2020a: 89).

In the Environment and Planning A paper, we showed that in the literature, “state capitalism is seen as primarily determined at the national level. This has profound implications, including a tendency in systemic approaches to see geographic space as a mere container of relatively coherent models of state capitalism, or as a passive terrain of competition between such models and other forms of state capitalism” (Alami and Dixon 2021: 11). We then carefully demonstrated that “[a]s a result of these geographical assumptions concerning the nature and scale of state capitalism, both systemic and organisational approaches offer a restricted and potentially misleading reading of its contemporary advent” (ibid.). Furthermore, we went on to propose an alternative theoretical framework explicitly breaking away from methodological nationalism and from any sort of understanding of state capitalism as being contained within national states, or as being rigidly defined a national model of development.

Let us also emphasise again that, from an empirical perspective, the state transformations that we are concerned with are unfolding (albeit unevenly) across territorial borders and the spaces of the world economy and are absolutely irreducible to the rise of China. This much we have made very clear and documented at length (see Alami and Dixon 2021: 6-7). The state transformations we document and analyse are global in scope and in nature (being rooted in determinate processes pertaining to the historical development and geographical remaking of capitalism).

Carroll and Jarvis (2022: 7-8) also write that there is a risk of elevating exceptions (as they put it, China is “atypical”) to a status they might not deserve. We entirely agree. In fact, we have explicitly made the case that we must avoid any form of “exceptionalising” in theorising state capitalism. We wrote that most approaches in the literature:

tend to exceptionalise state capitalism. Yet, we know that the perimeter, depth, and modalities of state action have varied considerably throughout the historical geographies of capitalism … [W]e also know that what may be considered state capitalism in one historical-geographical context may pass as ordinary and inconspicuous in another. Consequently, for us, exceptionalising state capitalism, whether in historical or ontological terms, is problematic. Efforts at characterising state capitalism must break with this tendency. (Alami and Dixon 2021: 13)

This also relates to Carroll and Jarvis’ claim that we overstate the novelty of the “new” state capitalism. Carroll and Jarvis are right that the claim of novelty which pervades the literature is problematic, but they are incorrect in attributing this to us. We would argue that we have actually repeatedly warned in our work of this problem, and have criticised at length the literature for failing to substantiate its claim of novelty (Alami and Dixon 2020a).[2] In another paper, we write:

State capitalism seems to be the historical norm more than an exception. Consider, for example, the 16th century company-state, the Hamiltonian state-led capitalist development in the late 19th century United States, the stabilisation funds of the 1930s, the large state sectors in post-1945 Western Europe, postwar French dirigisme d’état, and the classical East Asian developmental state. If state capitalism could be the norm, what does this mean for theorising state capitalism in its current modalities? (Alami et al. 2022a: 248)

We therefore certainly agree with Carroll and Jarvis (2022: 7) that many of the ways in which states currently use some tools of intervention are in no ways “atypical of other developmental (or welfare) states historically”. There is however a puzzle, which we aim to address in our work: how to theorise the specificity of state capitalism without exceptionalising it? In Alami and Dixon (2021), where we spell out our theoretical argument (further developed in a forthcoming book), we propose a way out of this dilemma, by drawing on materialist state theory (more on this below). Here, too, is precisely where there could be an interesting conversation to have with Carroll and Jarvis (and others), whose understanding of the state is also inspired by materialist state theory.

State Capitalism and the Neglect of Power Relations and Social Forces

Carroll and Jarvis (2022: 1) contend that “by eliding state and institutionalist theory and, specifically, separating the analysis of state transformation from the power and leverage of social forces under late capitalism, NSC scholars end up offering an inaccurate, inchoate and incoherent conceptualisation and analysis of important phenomena”. They add:

Placing the emphasis back on power and interests would allow NSC scholars to unpack what it is that they mean by the “state” and “state capitalism”, and allow an understanding of class and interest based agency to inform analyses about rent/resource competition, shedding light on leverage, power and influence in decision-making and developmental statecraft. Without doing so, “new state capitalism” devolves into a set of structural assumptions and typologies, unable to differentiate between competing interests and their relative power. Moreover, the role of agency, political factionalism and rent competition as core dynamics of party-state developmental/institutional politics vanishes. (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 8)

While we certainly agree that questions of power and interests are fundamental to understanding contemporary state transformations, we would strongly disagree with the claim that our work is devoid of such questions. A few textual examples will suffice to demonstrate otherwise.

In our Competition & Change paper, we explicitly draw attention to such questions. We write:

[We must start] from the idea that the capital relation is always political, and that political and economic power are always entangled … [This] prompts us to reflect upon how specific organizational and governance arrangements … , particular institutions and forms of state–business relations … and transnational state capitalist practices … contribute to a multifaceted process of reconfiguration of political and economic power in relation to broader dynamics of accumulation … [These] are various entry points from which to investigate specific configurations of political and economic power in concrete instantiations of state capitalism, and who benefits from them … [This] can help us shed light on the multiple dimensions of contemporary state–capital hybrids, and “actively problematize” – as Sperber puts it (2019: 116) – “the balance of power and of influence between public and private actors” in the context of wider dynamics of accumulation. (Alami and Dixon 2020a: 86)

In a forum on state capitalism that we recently edited for Geopolitics (Alami et al. 2022b), we invited Nana de Graaff to write on state-business elites and their embedding into wider corporate and political networks, in order to question the public/private binary that shapes so much state capitalism scholarship. We also invited Ruben Gonzalez-Vicente (whom Carroll and Jarvis know well) to write on intra-capitalist class struggle in the making of the “new” state capitalism, and Nathan Sperber (2022) on the class situation of officials and executives embedded in government and state-owned enterprises (in the Contemporary Politics special issue [Alami et al. 2022a]). This is part of our attempt to encourage studies of state capitalism to pay due attention to material interests, social forces, and political antagonisms.

In our Contemporary Politics paper, we argue that state capitalism studies:

should interrogate in relation to global capitalism the specific relations between state and capital and the particular configurations of political and economic power in the concrete instantiations of capitalism under investigation. In particular, this involves studying the specific organisational, institutional, legal, and spatial forms that politically mediate these relationships, but also the various agents, groups, and class fractions who reproduce or aim to challenge these relationships. (Alami et al. 2022a: 249-250)

We then make the explicit case for “reinvigorating class analysis in state capitalism studies” (Alami et al. 2022a: 252-254). Here’s an excerpt of what we write on the matter:

the relative absence of class analysis in studies on the new state capitalism is a curious case … After all, the often-emphasised distinct character of state capitalist regimes is built on the idea that state elites or class factions control the major means of production in “statist” economies … This would warrant a privileged analytical focus on these elites or class factions in state capitalism research. One of the reasons for the relative scarcity of such analyses in the recent literature is that a focus on geopolitics has tended to displace issues of class. Questions such as who controls state capital, how state capital is invested, and who profits from this configuration, have been addressed largely from a geopolitical perspective … The role of specific elite and class configurations and conflicts in the reproduction of state capitalism has therefore largely slipped into the background … [S]cholars can study power relations between governmental and business factions in different sectors and policy domains, and how conflicts and coalitions between these factions influence the emergence and design of state capitalist policies … In this respect, the field of state capitalism studies may benefit from explicitly exploring the following questions: what are the class forces which benefit from the current rise of state capitalism? What social struggles develop in, within, and against state capitalism?

We also draw attention in our work on state capitalism to other types of power relations, notably those of the inter-state system and the highly hierarchical nature of the world market (global North/South, developing/developed countries, East/West), as well as power competition between hegemons and contenders. The Antipode (Alami et al. 2021), Political Geography (Alami and Dixon 2020b), and Geopolitics (Alami et al. 2022b) papers are extremely clear about this. In this respect, the claim that our analysis in the Political Geography paper (Alami and Dixon 2020b) is somehow “post-materialist” and devoid of an analysis of power relations and material interests is bogus, given our argument that contemporary discourses about a rising state capitalism in the East are being weaponised by a coalition of powerful Western state and business actors, and that this strategy must be located within material transformations in global capitalism and attending geopolitical antagonisms.[3]

On Our Conceptual Framework Being Underdeveloped

Carroll and Jarvis spend some time in their intervention criticising our conceptual framework which they find lacking in at least two ways. First, they argue that our conceptual apparatus “appears heavily China-centric. In part, the problem arises from their abstraction of Sperber’s (2019) comprehensive historical review of state capitalism literatures” (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 5). We have covered the alleged China-centrism already, so let us now focus on our framework being too reductionist of Sperber’s comprehensive analysis (which we likewise find excellent) to a simple dichotomous framing. They write:

there remains, as Sperber (2019: 111) notes, a tendency to “specify poorly” the scope of state capitalism. Alami et al.’s [2021] abstraction of Sperber’s highly nuanced review, often suggests the state is simply dichotomised between policy instruments associated with discretionary taxes, resource transfers, regulation, planning and industrial policy on the one hand, and direct ownership of production and accumulation on the other, with these modalities mixing and creating hybridity. But this is hardly insightful. (Carroll and Jarvis 2022: 6)

The problem here seems to stem from a simple but rather important misunderstanding. Carroll and Jarvis seem to think that the simple dichotomy we draw from Sperber’s work (the distinction between statism and state–capital hybrids) amounts to our proposition of a comprehensive conceptual frame. It is not. As we actually explain in the Antipode paper, we simply use this distinction “[t]o make sense of this diversity [in the transformations in the landscapes of state intervention] heuristically” (Alami et al. 2021:1298). This is simply a means to structure our documentation of such transformations in the remainder of the paper. This heuristic does play a role in our proposition of a broader conceptual framework of state capitalism (see, in particular, our Environment and Planning A paper [Alami and Dixon 2021], where the heuristic is embedded in a broader conceptualisation of the role of the state in development, in dialogue with a range of literatures on state theory, which Carroll and Jarvis will probably have much sympathy for). To put it differently, we do not think it is fair for Carroll and Jarvis to assess the comprehensiveness of our theoretical proposition on the basis of the very brief conceptual notes presented in the Antipode paper (Alami et al. 2021: 1297). These notes had no ambition to provide a comprehensive conceptual apparatus on state capitalism. We would, however, strongly encourage them to read and critically engage with the texts where we actually explicitly elaborate such conceptual framework and where we do the theoretical heavy lifting of our work (see in particular, Alami and Dixon’s papers published in Environment and Planning A [Alami and Dixon 2021], Science and Society [Alami 2021], and Contemporary Politics [Alami et al. 2022a], as well as our forthcoming full-length book manuscript). We are very much looking forward to some engagement with this theoretical work, and eager to debate.

Then, there is Carroll and Jarvis’ (2022: 11) claim that our argument and framework, like much of the literature, “heavily implies some tectonic battle between states and markets”. This is indeed a major problem of state capitalism studies in general, which we have analysed at length in its multiple manifestations and theoretical implications (Alami and Dixon 2020a, 2021; Alami et al. 2022a).[4] Our whole theoretical attempt is motivated by the will to, if not do away with it, at least deploy the problematic state/market dichotomy in a self-reflexive and critical manner. Carroll and Jarvis are of course free to think that we fail in this regard, but they must be able to show how so based on what we write. Rather, what they do in their response is systematically interpret our argument in the Antipode paper as a claim that states are upending markets. In other words, they pigeonhole our argument into one pole of the state/market dichotomy and force a zero-sum game understanding of state capitalism onto our argument, which we very explicitly argue against. This does not do justice to our argument that contemporary state capitalism is certainly not about upending markets. Indeed, our work provides a wealth of theoretical and empirical evidence in support of Carroll and Jarvis’ (2022: 12) (correct) claim that much of contemporary state capitalism is about “deepening marketisation and financialisation tied to the emergence of a truly global form of capitalism”. Our Economic Geography paper (Alami and Dixon 2022) is a thorough theoretical and empirical demonstration of this argument.

In sum, not only do we not see a contradiction between the rise of state capitalism and the deepening of markets, the argument that we repeatedly made in our papers and in this response is precisely that what is interesting and stimulating to investigate is the relation between the two.

On the Continuous Subordination of Developing Countries and Restricted Policy Space

Carroll and Jarvis then make a series of critical comments about our arguments concerning the recent extension of various forms of state capitalist modalities, notably the proliferation of state-sponsored corporate entities across the world economy (such as development and policy banks, state-owned enterprises, sovereign wealth funds, and state-supported national champions) as well as the emergence of muscular forms of statism (such as economic patriotism, strategic protectionism, techno-nationalism, neo-mercantilism, various forms of industrial policy and national development plans, and a renewed focus on infrastructure).

As further explained below, Carroll and Jarvis raise several fundamental points with which we absolutely agree (the defining focus of development practice remaining market competitiveness and productivity and the continuous subordination of developing countries in the world market, notably manifested as a narrow range of policy options, and extreme inequalities in terms of material wealth and power). Nevertheless, we note that their critique of our argument seems to conflate two distinct things: (1) that there is indeed such an expansion in the modalities of state intervention described earlier; and (2) that such expansion is effectively upending markets, profoundly transforming power relations in the global political economy, catalysing modernisation/industrialisation, and expanding policy space in developing economies.

Let us be very clear that while we are unequivocal about (1)—and we provide a wealth of evidence in support of it, based on various policy reports from multilaterals, national governments, and other actors—we make absolutely no categorical argument with respect to (2).[5] Furthermore, nowhere do we argue that these modalities of state intervention are somehow constituting a new “model”, nor that they are necessarily incompatible with what Carroll and Jarvis call “development practice”. Indeed, we certainly agree with Carroll and Jarvis that there are many ways in which “state capitalist” instruments, such as, say, policy and development banks, blended finance, or international development agencies, can be used to de-risk private sector investment, i.e. contribute to deepening “market-based finance” in development. Similarly, “new” forms of industrial policy and planning also do not necessarily challenge the primacy of “politics of competitiveness” in development. Many of such plans are indeed geared towards plugging firms and territories into global value chains, which is fully consistent with the mainstream development mantra of competitiveness and connectivity (Schindler et al. 2022). Moreover, as Carroll and Jarvis emphasise, many sovereign funds (though not all!) are fully market-conforming, and significantly contribute to marketisation and financialisation.[6] Likewise, many state enterprises have been marketised, corporatised, follow an explicitly commercial conduct, and are increasingly integrated with global circuits of capital, including global networks of production, trade, finance, infrastructure, and corporate ownership (for an in-depth discussion, see Alami and Dixon 2022).

And yet, these proliferating modalities of state intervention and state–capital hybrids are also potential sites of friction, tension, and conflict—the presence of the state never being unproblematic—which is why we deem them a valuable object of inquiry and critical analysis. Hence, as we argue in the Antipode paper, we are clearly seeing an attempt from development multilaterals to make sure that these modalities of state intervention assume liberal forms (especially in developing countries), create the fewest frictions possible in the global circuits of trade, production, and finance, and do not disrupt the competitive operations of the law of value. This is clear in their explicit objective of clearly delineating the parameters according to which things like sovereign funds, development banks, state enterprises should be used and governed: according to the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank, they must be run “professionally” by technocrats, management consultants, or former bankers, they must adopt the techniques of liberal governance, they must mimic the practices and organisational goals of comparable private-sector entities, operate in a business-like manner, adopting “modern risk management practices”, “effective governance frameworks”, and so on.

There are myriad ways in which state capitalism and the deepening of market-based finance in development are co-implicated. For instance, Schindler et al. (2022) examine three spatialised industrial strategies—Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Kenya’s Vision 2030, and Thailand 4.0—and find evidence of the widespread use of state capitalist instruments to de-risk private finance, but also of the strategic adoption of the policy grammar of the Wall Street Consensus by Southern governments in order to politically justify and legitimate an extension of the state’s role as a development actor and owner of capital.

In other words, we fundamentally agree with Carroll and Jarvis that these proliferating modalities of state intervention and state–capital hybrids have so far been largely embedded in the politics of competitiveness (Cammack), zombie neoliberalism (Peck), the emergence of a Wall Street Consensus (Gabor), the cultivation of regulatory states (Jayasuriya), and the general deepening of market-rule in development (Carroll and Jarvis; see also Mawdsley and Taggart 2022). However, based on this important insight, Carroll and Jarvis’ conclusion seems to be: “nothing to see here, this is just business as usual.” We would disagree with such conclusion. These proliferating modalities of state intervention and state–capital hybrids nonetheless deserve our critical and analytical attention insofar as they constitute an important set of transformations in the morphology of present-day capitalism, and they represent points of friction, tension, and conflicts (along class and geopolitical lines) which will shape the future of capitalism. We argue that the category state capitalism can importantly contribute to this critical-analytical task. Let us conclude by briefly explaining why.

Conclusion: On the “Problematique of State Capitalism”

If, as Carroll and Jarvis put it (correctly in our view), “what is crucial is where the state is active and how” (2022: 2), then our argument is that state capitalism, conceived as a “problematique” rather than a thesis, may be particularly useful (Alami et al. 2022a; Alami and Dixon 2021).

By this, we mean that the category state capitalism can be productively construed as a means of problematising the current aggregate expansion of the state’s role as promoter, supervisor, and owner of capital across the world economy. Rather than the negation of an abstract model of free-market capitalism, or the rise of a nationally scaled variant of capitalism, we posit contemporary state capitalism as a global process of restructuring of the capitalist state (which resonates with the title of Carroll and Jarvis’ intervention: “Understanding the State in relation to Late Capitalism”). This means that state capitalism must not be seen as an anomaly or a deviance from liberal, market-based capitalism (capitalism without the “state” qualifier), but as a particular modality of expression of the capitalist state, including in its liberal form. State capitalism is an immanent potentiality, an impulse which is contained in the form of the capitalist state and built into its DNA (for a full-fledged theoretical elaboration, see our forthcoming book and Alami and Dixon 2021).

This approach firmly locates our conception of state capitalism in state theory (Alami 2021; Alami and Dixon 2020a, 2021). The challenge, then, is to identify the determinate processes pertaining to the historical development and geographical remaking of capitalism which are at the root of state capitalist impulses (it is insufficient to say, as Carroll and Jarvis [2022: 8] suggest, that these are “just sets of unrelated yet somewhat similar developments within nation-states that at best are transferred via forms of mimetic isomorphism”). Importantly, this invites reflection as to structural capitalist transformations and their underpinning by diverse material bases and social forces. This also opens up space for reflection and debate on the link between transformations in current landscapes of state intervention and their relations to capitalist trends such as persistent neoliberalisation, financialisation, the transnational organisation of the circuits of commodity, productive, and money capital, and enduring inequalities of wealth and power.

We would add that our task is to scrutinise these transformations in all their dimensions, notably their ideological ones. As such, a focus on material interests and structural change is not incompatible with a keen attention to intellectual production and discursive operations, insofar as these are implicated in the construction of a public/private boundary which plays a fundamental role in portraying some specific forms of state intervention and ownership as legitimate, and in negating the political legitimacy of others. This is fully consistent with a materialist approach committed to progressive social change.


[1] Editors’ Note: Both Antipode articles, Ilias Alami, Adam D. Dixon and Emma Mawdsley’s “State Capitalism and the New Global D/development Regime” and Toby Carroll and Darryl Jarvis’ “Understanding the State in relation to Late Capitalism: A Response to ‘New’ State Capitalism Contributions”, are free to download at and respectively.

[2] Note, also, our use of scare quotes (as in “new” state capitalism) in order to draw attention to the potential problems stemming from the claim of historical novelty.

[3] Carroll and Jarvis (2022: 3) are correct in their identification of a tension between our argument in the Antipode paper (where we embrace the category state capitalism and use it to designate a series of clearly identifiable material state transformations), and our approach in the Political Geography paper, where we analyse state capitalism as a form of discourse. The two papers have indeed different objects of inquiry, and we use the category state capitalism in different ways to serve different analytical purposes. The citation that Carroll and Jarvis find “somewhat obtuse and complicated” is simply an attempt to clearly explain the distinction between the two perspectives to a demanding reviewer. Note that we also clearly explain the difference between the two acceptations and usages of the term state capitalism in multiple papers (Alami et al. 2021, 2022a, 2022b).

[4] See also (last accessed 26 July 2022).

[5] To be clear, let us emphasise once again that these transformations are absolutely not reducible to the rise of China. They have indeed unfolded globally, albeit very unevenly, depending on a country’s position in the international division of labour and power differentials in the inter-state system, i.e. not all states have had the opportunity and/or capacity (or political will, for that matter) to drastically expand modalities of intervention and direct ownership of capital.

[6] We are very much aware of that, and have never argued otherwise, contrary to what Carroll and Jarvis’ (2022: 9-12) rather uncharitable reading suggests. In fact, one of us (Adam Dixon) has written extensively on the matter, including on sovereign funds’ diverse institutional and organisational arrangements (including different missions, mandates, and investment objectives) and the geographies of their investment.


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