Volume 44, Number 173,
April-June 2013
Adjustment: Origin of the European Crisis
Andrés Musacchio

However, there are some cases where the standards became much more rigid. Capitalism tends to combine different forms of surplus extraction in each stage, that is, the relative and absolute surplus, as well as the appropriation of certain spheres of society, oriented towards primitive accumulation, or as Harvey (2003) calls it, accumulation by dispossession. The difference between the stages lies in the way in which each of the forms is put into practice, the relative weight between them and the features defining the articulation among them. In the neoliberal model, new technologies allow for a jump in productivity that provides the base for an increase in the relative surplus. At the same time, it has an impact on the labor world (through new productive speeds, unemployment and an increase in the active population), which facilitate increased flexibility and a greater absolute surplus value. Finally, it can be said that in two areas, there is a process of “primitive accumulation” or “accumulation by dispossession,” based on rigid norms: the economic exploitation of nature and of knowledge.3 In the case of nature, what is new is the conversion of resources into merchandise, when these resources were previously freely available and then become private property. The patenting of genetic material and the private exploitation of its use, on top of the unequal conditions surrounding the patenting process, turn persons that were previously users of these natural resources into their vassals. This occurs in the production of alternative medication, the agricultural and livestock sectors, the textile and chemical industries, etc.

Similarly, knowledge as the basis of technological revenue is a central factor for competition, which is increasingly determined by the exclusive ownership of intellectual property. In this area, multinational corporations lobby for stricter international legislation. Control over the use of knowledge drives a reevaluation of workers that must face new processes where application of this knowledge is key, while traditional branches continue to tend towards unqualified workers. Control over essential aspects of nature or knowledge is a powerful factor in social differentiation, which closes the door on the social mobility sought by Fordism. The polarization of the productive structure also polarizes income, while the commercialization of key services such as education (here Harvey’s dispossession by privatization has a significant role) blocks access for those lacking sufficient income. The system of social inequalities is thus not rooted in the individual (as set forth by proponents of neoliberalism), but rather in the social conditions and social space in which the individual exists.

These changes also imply a deep transformation of institutional dynamics. The participation of different levels of governance (local, national and regional) is significantly transformed (cf., for example, Jessop, 1996 or Bieling, 2003). In the same way, the actions taken by these bodies undergo a change, as well as the logic behind their policies and regulations. In this framework, European integration has been transformed in multiple ways that both accompany and reinforce the process, as the system emerges completely different from the past. We will examine this in greater detail below.


The path to neoliberalism in Europe began in Great Britain in 1979 and spread throughout almost the entire region in the years to come. Although each country implemented it in a different way, the specifics may be understood as tolerable variations within a common general model, upon which the integration process would begin its restructuring, which at that point, languished in a decade-long structural crisis. Three elements determined the reconfiguration of the integration process. First, the compatibility of the features of capital accumulation processes, where financial capital had singular influence. Second, the territory in question found a new anchor in accumulation, moving from national to regional spaces. Finally, a change in the power relations among different social groups reflected in institutional dynamics, which allowed for the conformation of new regulatory mechanisms and created new features of regulatory spaces, with a partial loss of State influence and increasing power transferred to the local and regional levels. These transformations were reinforced by the collapse of the “socialist world,” which eliminated the strategic need to maintain certain social balances as a containment policy to keep the political structures of capitalism under control. The crisis and the fall of the Soviet bloc paved the way for policies that were previously not feasible (cf. Deppe, 2000: 339).

In this way, in the first half of the 1980s, a new development model arose, reconfiguring the social fabric. In this framework, integration would take on new meaning, gaining momentum between the signing of the Single European Act in 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. This process was different from the one began in 1958. Although the basic institutions were still the same, their functions were completely changed, with increased “statehood.” The European supranational bodies began to assume roles that were previously exclusive to nation-states (cf., for example, Karras, 2009).

Accumulation also took on a new spatial articulation. Territorial restructuring and the configuration of new productive circuits occurred in the regional territory and even beyond. As a result, the physical space over which European institutions were projected began to expand, first towards the south, then to the north and finally to the east. These expansions, especially the latter, should be studied in light of the dynamics of services in the productive model, which was also notably different than how it was in the three decades prior. The importance of financial services and the deployment of privatized public services that encouraged regional companies to center their activities in a semi-protected territory brought about a new model imposed on an entirely unequal territory in terms of relative development. The integration of the 1950s-60s, associated with national Fordist models, should have necessarily maintained some balance among the participants. The integration of the 1980s, however, tended to consolidate an accumulation space where spatial and sector imbalances were part of the general dynamic and allowed for – and even required – an underdeveloped region to reinforce accumulation for the central region. In this case, “neutral” institutional control had to intervene to guarantee necessary regulation.4 Finally, the new regulatory mechanisms were very different from those of the Fordism era. The two main forms of regulation – salary regulation and currency management – have been replaced by new forms of competition and currency management that tend to strengthen the fiscal and monetary discipline of nations.

3 In the analysis of new trends, Hirsch (2002: 103) talks about a broadening of the spheres of capitalist action. We believe that the phenomenon is even greater, as it alters the functioning of productive processes. It is not merely an additional factor but rather one of the roots of change for the model. Harvey emphasizes dispossession due to privatizations. Although this is an important aspect, dispossession of nature and knowledge is more relevant in neoliberalism. Harvey highlights the importance of the illegal aspects of dispossession, but neoliberalism proposes a constellation of legal methods that internalize the practices of dispossession as part of the functioning of the system.

4 Some authors analyze the configuration of a central-peripheral relation in the eu. Cf. Becker, 2004.

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 194 July-September 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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