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State Capitalism is Capitalism

Authors: Heather Whiteside*, University of Waterloo
Topics: Economic Geography, Canada
Keywords: state capitalism; liberalism; state owned enterprises; British North America; Canada
Session Type: Paper
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State capitalism is often cast as either antithetical to liberal capitalism or a particular and peculiar variety of state ownership and investment. However, as this paper explores, the long arc of state capitalism in Canada indicates that state capitalism is capitalism, and that liberal, especially neoliberal, discourse of distinct private markets underpinned by public sector laissez-faire mentality is fundamentally misleading. Crosscutting historical and contemporary trends reveal that state owned enterprises in a thoroughly liberal economy like Canada’s have been integral to the development and evolution of capitalism – both supporting capitalist development in early British North America, and reflecting changes within the capitalist system over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The important role played by Crown corporations today in particular indicates a contradiction at the heart of the neoliberal era – it may be market-oriented but is highly reliant on and enabled by the state. The paper details these elements in three parts, drawing on a forthcoming chapter in the Oxford Handbook on State Capitalism: i) it reviews the leading literature on state capitalism and summarizes neoliberal era contradictions; ii) it assesses the relationship between state capitalism and state owned enterprises through case study examples over various periods of economic development (settler colonial, Keynesian, neoliberal) and at several scales (urban, regional, national); and iii) it provides insights for analyses of state capitalism from the Canadian vantage point.

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