Roads to No Alternative: The Rejection of Proposals for the Socialisation of Investment in Western Europe, 1971-1991

Neil Warner, London School of Economics

This paper examines a neglected family of proposals that gained significant attention in socialist parties and labour movements in many Western European countries during the 1970s and 1980s. These were variety of initiatives, summarised here under the same category using the concept of ‘socialisation of investment’, to bring a greater part of the investment process in these economies under the control of the state or workers' movements. Focussing on cases in France, Britain and Sweden, the paper seeks to explain why socialist governments in these countries discussed but ultimately rejected such measures as a basis for their economic strategies. By situating these rejections in wider debates about low or declining investment in the 1970s, it suggests that a choice was faced by governments in the 1970s to tackle tensions between redistributive politics and privately-controlled investment either by expanding the role of the state and labour in the investment process, or by reducing their role and pairing back progressively redistributive politics in order to promote privately-controlled investment. By seeking to explain why social democratic governments chose the latter course rather than the former, it therefore contributes to our understanding of the early stages of the transition towards ‘neoliberalism’ in the policies of socialist parties in the 1970s and 1980s. Drawing on the ‘frame resonance’ perspective of Snow et al (1986), it is argued that each of these proposals were rejected as a basis for economic strategy because of the low resonance which questions related to the investment process had for socialist politicians, labour movements and voters.

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 Presented in Session 28. Money, Politics, and the State