Corporate Power and Instrumental States: Towards a Critical Reassessment of the Role of Firms, States and Regulation in Global Governance

Dan Danielsen

Chapter in International Law and Its Discontents: Confronting Crises, B. Stark, ed., (Cambridge Univ. Press 2015)


In this chapter, the author critically examines the view, commonly held among political liberals and conservatives alike, of the nation-state as the primary institutional safeguard against economic instability, and the correlative conception of "economic crises" as primarily the result of "regulatory failure," either in the form of too much or too little oversight by states over the economy. Building on the author's recent work exploring the "global economic order" as a complex co-production of states and economic actors bargaining over and adapting in relation to the rules that govern them, the author suggests that the modern nation state might be better understood as a participant and enabler of the capitalist economy rather than its other or limit. In this view, state regulatory deference to "private" market ordering and market deference to limited state regulatory authority comprise a regime of global political and economic governance, rather than symptomatic evidence of the failure of the political sphere to govern the economic one. The article then explores some of the ramifications of this revised conception of global governance for our understanding of the role of states and regulation in economic crises. In so doing, the author resists simple narratives of "state capture" or "conspiracies of capital" as explanations or justifications for the current global order, while suggesting that the very complexity and ungovernability of the global system as "system" may provide the key to progressive resistance and transformation.