Dick Walker and regional economic development (Re: Professor Judy Butler

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Tue Dec 8 17:32:32 PST 1998

-----Original Message----- From: Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU> To: lbo-talk at lists.panix.com <lbo-talk at lists.panix.com>

-But, Doug, are you sure that he is a -Marxist? Does he claim to be one? Doesn't he strike you as something of a -Schumpeterian, vacillating between Leninism and bourgeois Marxism? I -wouldn't be surprised if he has exerted considerable influence on the other -renegade Robert Brenner. Nathan probably has fond memories of Dick's paeans -to the continuous -revolutionisation of technical conditions. Truth be told...Walker is -probably the last theoretical -critic of political economy at Berkeley.

Walker does have this odd agnosticism as to motive forces, his largest Marxist inheritance being a broad economic determinism to his writing where industries and geography are overwhelmingly the product of seemingly mechanical patterns of capitalist and technological production. Labor struggle is mostly there as either a stabilizer of local cross-class compacts (a la Walker's mentor Harvey) or a reason for new industries to flee to new geographic centers.

The state in his writing such as THE CAPITALIST IMPERATIVE is under-theorized or bluntly ignored except in its subordinate uses to capitalists, largely because Walker, I think, buys a relatively hardline view of the state as the executive committee of the ruling class. The endproduct of that viewpoint, I think, is that his view of geographical development of industries, particularly in regards to Silicon Valley, massively downplays the defence-driven realities of economic development for the last fifty years. He mostly takes the "technological milieu" argument of Anna Lee Saxenian and others at face value.

I actually think Anne Markusen has the clearest theoretical and empirical arguments for why various areas developed high technology and why others did not. She places defence spending at the center of analysis and never lets it leave the focus, unlike others who say on page 5 of their book, well, yes, the federal government funded all the technology, but then ignore that fact for the next two hundred pages of their analysis. While I am not necessarily a fan of multivariate regression, Markusen has done some lovely studies showing that the two largest factors determining where new high tech centers were started were (1) level of defense spending and (2) abscence of black people. The technological redlining of post-war defense spending is another major issue ignored by most theorists like Walker of high tech (except in again deterministic analyses of "peripheral" versus core workers).

Rakesh may know other writings by Walker on the subject of race, but its general abscence in his writing fits his general economic determinism, since race just does not fit well in Walker's Schumpterian Marxism. It is undoubtedly true that the more economic determinist strands of Marxism have been least comfortable with integrating racial issues, while more state-oriented Marxist versions have more often seen racist state action as intimately tied up with the formation of capitalist production.

While I would not call him a Marxist (but a strong leftwing Weberian post-Marxist), I would actually stand up for my Sociology advisor at Berkeley. Peter Evans, as a rather sharp analyst of political economy from a more state-centered approach. Since he is rooted in third world development issues, his analysis is broadly informed by the tripartite conflict of global capital, local capital, and state action in determining economic development.

--Nathan Newman

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