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The return of the local state? Failing neoliberalism, remunicipalisation, and the role of the state in advanced capitalism

Authors: Franziska Paul*, University of Glasgow, Andrew Cumbers, University of Glasgow
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: remunicipalisation, public ownership, local state, neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
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Picking up on the manifestation of state intervention following the 2008 financial crisis, this paper argues that the recent trend towards remunicipalisation both underlines and challenges the thesis of new state capitalism(s). Remunicipalisation refers to a process evident since the early 2000s, and particularly since 2008, for towns, cities and sub-national regions to take previously privatised assets, services and infrastructure back into forms of local public – hence municipal – ownership (Cumbers and Becker, 2018). Remunicipalisation has thus led to the emergence of regionally- and municipally-owned enterprises across a range of sectors including water, sanitation, energy, waste, transport, education, (tele)communications, as well as health and social care. The process is global but geographically uneven, with strong concentrations evident in the USA, Germany, and France. Aiming to engage with the nature of the ‘new’ state capitalism, this paper argues that processes of remunicipalisation have emerged in response to the failed neoliberal promise to improve the quality and efficiency of public services through the free market. As such, remunicipalisations frequently encompass a critique of neoliberal governance, and often focus on the potential of regional wealth and/or value creation, which will be explored with the examples of case studies from the US and Germany. The de-legitimisation of neoliberal logics and the return of the state is also frequently discussed in relation to the pro-public movement, e.g. evident in the opposition politics of the British Labour Party, the radical municipalism of the European “Fearless Cities” movement, and community wealth building initiatives in the US.

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