The ‘wicked trinity’ of late capitalism:Governing in an era of stagnation, surplus humanity, and environmental breakdown

Alami, Ilias and Copley, Jack and Moraitis, Alexis (2023) The ‘wicked trinity’ of late capitalism:Governing in an era of stagnation, surplus humanity, and environmental breakdown. Geoforum. ISSN 0016-7185 (In Press)

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Scholars within the fields of political ecology, environmental political theory, and international political economy tend to evaluate the prospects of state-led environmental transitions in general terms – enquiring as to the capitalist state’s inherent properties and their environmental implications. Less attention has been paid to how the state’s green capacities are conditioned by contemporary evolutions in the form and pace of capital accumulation. Capitalism’s directional pattern of historical development poses unique challenges for green state projects. Its drive to raise labour productivity metabolises nature on a growing scale, while generating conditions of overproduction and rendering a progressively larger portion of the population superfluous to the production process. Thus, the question is not simply whether the state can rise to the challenge of climate change, but rather how states are scrambling to govern the intersecting crises of climate catastrophe, economic stagnation, and surplus humanity. This ‘wicked trinity’ compounds the tensions at the heart of the capitalist state, resulting in an increasing inability to perform its role while sustaining its liberal form. This governance trilemma is illustrated by the case of the solar photovoltaic boom, where the spectacular increase in the productivity and scale of solar panel manufacturing have generated oversupply and falling profitability. States have reacted by indefinitely providing subsidies, financing automation technologies that exacerbate labour superfluity, and relocating solar panel manufacturing to places with authoritarian labour regimes. The case of photovoltaics is a microcosm of the general predicament faced by states as they struggle to govern capitalism’s secular developmental tendencies.

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20 Feb 2023 16:00
In Press
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21 Mar 2023 17:00