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Political Economy of Contemporary Asia (1)

1Heterodox analysis of Asian development is not new, as shown in the intellectual history of Ha-Joon Chang, retraced in the interview of this special issue, but there is still room for a great deal of in-depth analysis. This research is necessary because of the scale of the vast, extremely diverse economic region covered and the rapidity of the changes taking place, as well as the lack of knowledge concerning it in France.

2This issue devoted to contemporary Asian political economy echoes our special section on Capitalisms in Latin America, from economics to politics, published in Spring 2012. For these two continents in the throes of globalisation, the main question raised by Regulation theory – namely the mechanisms underlying the cohesiveness and viability of capitalist economies – assumes particular importance. In both instances, the economies studied are characterised by an abundance of institutional architectures feeding the diversity of capitalisms. In Asia, however, the determinant role of what is generically qualified as the ‘developer’ or ‘development-centred’ state has never really been called into question. In some of the less industrialised countries of Asia (China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma), capitalism is in the process of being established; in others (Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.), the evolutions and trajectories, whether stable or turbulent, are multiple as well. In order to address the complexity of the subject and reflect the quality and variety of the research underway, it has thus been necessary to present two special sections: the first bears specifically on Southeast Asia (issue 13, Spring 2013), while the second is mainly devoted to East Asia (issue 15, Spring 2014).

3Two levels of analysis may be distinguished in the present issue. The first pays tribute to classic authors like Marx and Polyani. In their respective ways, the articles of Stéphanie Barral and François Bafoil, dealing with Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia, refer back to the meta-questions these great thinkers raised about the social construction of the land market, which gives rise to the social construction of the labour market. Without the necessary preconditions for the wage system and the mobilisation of labour, capitalism cannot exist. These two articles thus analyse the ways these emerge and clearly bring out the role of the state in the historical process underway, whereby the state transforms land ownership and labour law at one and the same time. Labour thus becomes a commodity, with a price, through what Bafoil describes as a process of disinstitutionalisation in the casino economies of Cambodia and Laos, or in Indonesia’s plantations, through the introduction of a logic whereby wage income and social protection depend on the company.

4The second level focuses on theoretical considerations raised by the transformations underway in Asia and their growing importance for Regulation theory. Like the whole of the institutionalist branch of economics, the Regulationists seek to make relevant theoretical contributions; the present developments in East Asia call for bolstering its theoretical apparatus along two lines.

5The first is quite directly related to Max Weber – another guiding light in this special section – and relates to the specific area of beliefs. Thus, the national political justification of economic development is analysed in terms of the construction of official discourse. The studies of David Delfolie and Jean Pierre Cling et al. look at cultural and ideological representations and the way these structure the economic domain. In Malaysia, for example, the banking sector and the state invoke Islam to standardise ‘equitable finance’ and thus attract the savings of all the agents for whom this concept is meaningful. In Vietnam, meanwhile, in order to benefit from the aid of international institutions without following their model – and having to abandon economic co-ordination to the market – the state develops an official line which allows it to reconcile opposites and act as it pleases.

6The second theoretical line, which is older in terms of the main themes of Regulation theory, concerns the states’ integration into the international economy. Their management of the common thus raises a problem of institutional inconsistency, as demonstrated by Jean-Paul Maréchal’s research on the climate. Indeed, the states’ pioneering but non-sustainable use of the common may be explained in part by the competition between them. Standards largely based on cost-competitiveness encourage agents to ignore negative externalities and transfer them onto the developing territories. The example of the relationship to the environment (climate) may be extended to labour, which clearly reflects the weakness of the institutional construction of ‘commons’. It also reflects the fact of Asia’s growing geopolitical influence.

7That said, China has taken paths which are clearly different from those of Europe or the United States. The articles by Thierry Pairault on China’s direct investments in Africa and by Min-Ha Chiang and Bernard Gerbier on cross-Strait economic relations show how China is establishing itself both at a distance (Africa) and on its own doorstep, so to speak (Taiwan). By relying on the strategies of its large public companies and its export capacities and using the law and rules of third countries to stabilise its provision of supplies, China has, more or less, taken control of the relations it maintains with its partners.

8But geopolitics, like Keynesian microeconomics, is still based on the scale of the nation-state and for this reason, it is not sufficient for the necessary broadening of our perspectives. The fact that within Asia, internationalisation processes are not only expanding but connecting up complex new scales (infra- and interregional, transnational, sector based) brings new questions into play.

9Addressing this necessary diversification of approaches, Pierre Alary and Elsa Lafaye de Micheaux’s introductory essay (online in September) describes the economic transformations underway and prospects for research on Asian political economy. It indicates in particular how much the dialogue with geography, which is at the forefront in this field, seems both difficult and promising.

10This special section on Asia clearly brings out the significant contributions of Régulation theory: the diversity of capitalisms and multiplicity of trajectories, the states’ eminently political interventions in the economic sphere, social relations as reflections and driving forces of change. It also illustrates the need to adapt what Robert Boyer calls the ‘conceptual apparatus’ in order to understand today’s world. With its effervescence of institutional innovations, Asia offers the possibility of an intellectual and analytical melting pot where Régulation theory not only has contributions to make but can be modified and enriched in exchange. By providing an exploratory tool capable of integrating new dimensions or features of social transformations and of being adapted to diversified socio-historical configurations, Régulation theory, and all the contributors dialoguing with it, help us to understand the determinants of the cohesiveness and transformations of the Asian institutional architectures.

11The “Varia” section of this volume displays other topics: financiarization of the argentinian economy (see the contribution of Cécilia Allami and Alan Cibils), influence of the european sociale policy on working relations in EU member countries (see the contribution of Emmanuelle Mazuyer) and economic impact of sports events (see the contribution of Patrice Bouvet). The article of Jean-François Ponsot and Michel Rocca presents an analysis of the complex relationship between economic theories and economic policies during the Great Depression.

12Beneath its technocratic modernity, the economy reveals its buried foundations to willing archaeologists of knowledge. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, professor of philosophy, literature and social science at Stanford University in California, is one of those who continuously probe these hidden strata, reflecting on the fragility of today’s world from the dual standpoint of philosopher and economist. The interview we are publishing by way of introduction to issue 13 of the Revue de la Régulation (which features a special section on Asia) traces the intellectual itinerary of this French thinker who is widely recognised beyond our borders. As such, it demonstrates the interest – or better yet, the urgency – for economists to give priority to interactions with the other social sciences.

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« Editorial  », Revue de la régulation [En ligne], 13 | 1er semestre / Spring 2013, mis en ligne le 17 juillet 2013, consulté le 25 mars 2017. URL :

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