Fractals of Governance: Governing the Economy at the Limits of Advanced Liberalism, 1922–2010

Onur Ozgode, Harvard Kennedy School

Conventional accounts of the postwar American political economy characterize this history as an epochal transition from Keynesian ad hoc interventionism to neoliberal laissez faire. While economic sociologists and others working adjacent fields complicated this post-Marxist narrative recently, these scholars have not provided an alternative explanatory model for the tremendous change US economic governance has undergone since the 1970s. In this paper, I develop such a model by conceptualizing the macroeconomic state—the domain for governing the economy as a statistical composite object—as a complex structure composed of layered socio-technical assemblages. I argue that instead of displacing each other (e.g. monetarism replacing Keynesianism, and systemic risk regulation displacing the former), these governmental layers were assembled at each others’ limits, where the apparatuses undergirding them can no longer function or manage the risk of a systemic collapse in the economy without limiting economic activity and growth. This process, thus, can be best understood as a fractalization process through which the elements constituting each assemblage are combined and recombined with new and already existing elements to produce new layers that replicate the formal features of already existing layers but serve new governmental functions. Once conceived from this recombinatorial perspective, neoliberalism looks more like the unintended result of a pragmatic and intergenerational problem-making/solving endeavor through which experts, deploying different forms of economics, constructed the domain of macroeconomic government in the form of concentric governmental layers that were developed in segregated areas in different eras.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 69. The New Deal Order and the Origins of Neoliberalism