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regional policy

  Policy directed at problems arising from uneven development between regions. How then does geographically uneven development arise and how does it take on the character of problems?

Geographically uneven development under capitalism is a consequence of

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the market conditions (see Regulation school) under which, and the criteria on which, capital moves through successive rounds of accumulation (see division of labour); and hence on {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the choice of investment (e.g. here vs. there, direct vs. indirect portfolio/securities) and sphere of capital (reproduction vs. production vs. realization); and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the geographical requirements (and hence location and spatial structure) of that investment.Thus capital investment in retailing (sphere of realization), for example, under conditions of loose planning control, creates new geographical forms and sites of production for consumption (clearly apparent in the rise of large-scale super- and hypermarkets located on the edge of towns where land is more plentiful and relatively cheap and vehicular access easier) and abandons others, such as town centres (see consumption, geography of; retailing, geography of). At a much larger scale, the single European market Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) will change the market conditions (e.g. through the convergence of once widely divergent short-term national interest rates, and price convergence enhanced by the greater transparency of market relations) and the criteria underpinning the circulation of capital in Europe, with potentially significant consequences for uneven development. EMU will both increase the geographical range over which a greater number of investment decisions may be made, thereby increasing the rigour by which alternative locations are evaluated and, at the same time, greatly reduce the possibilities for national economic interventions in the face of uneven development (through, e.g. monetary policy, exchange rate adjustments, fiscal policy).

Although the area-based nature of regional policy sets it apart from other policies which may have pronounced regional effects (e.g. the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU or federal defence expenditure in the USA), the definition of what constitutes a regional problem as distinct from a geographical pattern of development deriving from other stimuli (e.g. Massey, 1979) makes the precise specification of regional policy extremely difficult. An underlying reason for this difficulty is the complexity of the nature of regional differences (see Markusen, 1987). But another complication is the practical meaning of what constitutes a regional problem (e.g. Lee, 1989). \'Regional problems\' may derive from geographical unevenness in the distribution of income and welfare (see welfare geography), in the conditions of effective production or in the level and effectiveness of regional cultural integrity or political representation. Whatever the origin of such unevenness, however, it becomes problematic for the established social order when it begins to undermine economic, political or moral legitimacy and so threaten the social reproduction of the prevailing social order (see crisis).

If the effect of a single currency, for example, is to exacerbate regional unevenness in Europe then, without the degree of the mobility of labour or the possibility of recourse to the kinds and levels of federal redistribution characteristic of the economic geography of the USA, for example, the resultant inequalities and adjustments to the new conditions might become associated with much-feared fundamentalist and xenophobic political and social reactions of the kind already observed in Eastern Germany and other parts of the former state socialist countries.

Thus economic integration may be responsible for helping to stimulate the growth of regional consciousness and the drive to regional separatism or even independence. Such has been the historical geography of the Basque province in northern Spain since the inflow of capital and people associated with the development of heavy industry in an agricultural region as a result of the industrial revolution. The regional problem may be based in strongly felt and long-held cultural distinctions — as in the case of the Québécois in Canada. Although such distinctions may be long-dormant, they may be exploited (and misrepresented) for wider political objectives, as in the rapid rise of the right-wing Northern or Lombard Leagues in Italy in the belief that the dependence of the south of Italy is stultifying the development and threatening the political purity of the north.

From the perspective of the state (see, e.g. Johnston, 1986), regional problems arise when uneven development threatens political stability and presents the possibility of the break-up of the state system (e.g. Nairn, 1981). Similarly, when looked at from the perspective of the economy as a whole, the regional problem arises when uneven development acts as a barrier to capital accumulation. Indeed, the \'regional\' problem may simply be a geographical dimension of the wider problems of development (Massey, 1979).

Given the multi-faceted nature and complex provenance of the regional problem, it is hardly surprising that regional policy has varied over time and space in terms of its determinants, formal content, relative significance and objectives. This variation reflects not only the policy perception of the problem but the prevailing ideology of state involvement in the functioning of the economy or civil society. Thus regional policy may need to address the regional structure of the state apparatus itself in response to demands for greater self-government, autonomy or even dependence.

Thus regional policy may be founded on:

Intervention in the market conditions under which investment decisions are made (see, for example, Allen et al., 1998). Two distinct stances have prevailed here: on the one hand, market forces have been overridden or constrained by interventions — including public ownership, pricing policies, state-directed investment strategies (designed to achieve particular objectives such as the preservation of jobs or a particular geography of investment) and the provision of subsidies on investment such as tax breaks or investment incentives; and, on the other, markets have been deregulated in the belief that the intensification of competition and the increased freedom of capital which results — from privatization, for example — will generate growth.

Attempts to encourage inward investment during the 1980s and 1990s as a basis for national and regional development were founded on a curious mix of market regulation (including, for example, a wide range of inducements to mobile capital — often creating interregional competition in inducements on offer) and deregulation (most notably of labour markets and urban and regional planning). Attempts to encourage (dis)investment from/in particular kinds of economic activities may be made by allowing or stimulating decline or restructuring (through privatization, for example, or the targeting of particular sectors or specialized regions for retraining) and through the provision of risk and venture capital.

The provision and improvement of a wide range of infrastructure ranging through: physical infrastructure (e.g. telecommunications); research and development (R&D) and technology diffusion; education and training; support for the diffusion and dissemination of locally applicable knowledge around, and assistance in assessing new markets throughout, regional networks of firms engaged in particular types of production; housing and transportation to encourage direct investment in general, and investment in particular regions; and responding to contemporary requirements of production by creating a culturally and environmentally attractive and efficient geography for investment and the encouragement of a social, scientific and built environment — in the form, for example, of science parks — intended to encourage the transformation of pure into applied science and technology and the creation of an innovative industrial atmosphere.

The role of infrastructure in regional policy is contested, with one view suggesting that it provides the basis for development and another arguing that scarce resources should be allocated to the provision of infrastructure only when present provision is demonstrably overloaded and holding back accumulation (see Hirschmann, 1958; Vickerman, 1991).

Spatial restructuring aimed at the large-scale modification of a regional geography with restricted potential for accumulation. This may be addressed by regional policy through attempts to induce a locational shift which corresponds to a more effective economic geography for production. Much of the rationale for regional policy in the UK advanced in the influential Barlow Report of 1944, for example, was of this kind, arguing in particular that the geographical concentration of the economy in and around London was not only economically inefficient but also, under wartime conditions, strategically dangerous. On an intra-regional scale, the building of the post-war New Towns represented an attempt to create a built environment more amenable to the locational requirements of space-consuming industries and to the enhancement of the demand for their products (e.g. household appliances and the car).

Redistribution directed at the amelioration of unevenness in levels of living (see quality of life; social well-being). Such direct redistributive intervention is normally aimed at individuals and groups and is undertaken through the welfare state at the national level, albeit with pronounced regional effects.

Regional policy is rarely, if ever, definable in either purely economic terms (e.g. as a means of facilitating accumulation) or purely political terms (e.g. as a means of buying off regional political discontent). The links between the geography of ideology, accumulation, class and politics in the evolution not only of the formal existence and content of regional policy but also of its determinants, objectives and measures of \'success\' are extremely complex. And, more fundamentally — as Richard Walker (1997) shows in the case of California — the power of class and race in the making of acceptable geographies cannot be subjugated merely by a particular ideology of governance — manifest, perhaps, in \'regional\' policies of repression and development. Regional policy cannot, therefore, be reduced to a separate, \'geographical\' sphere of policy-making and implementation. Like the making of geographies, regional policy is an intrinsic, though variable, part of the process of social reproduction and is subject to the struggles over the establishment of acceptable social relations and the power that flows through them. (RL)

References Albrechts, L., Moulaert, F., Roberts, P. and Swyngedouw, E. 1989: Regional policy at the crossroads: European perspectives. London: Jessica Kingsley. Allen, J., Massey, D., Cochrane, A. et al. 1998: Rethinking the region: spaces of neo-liberalism. London: Routledge. Dunford, M. 1997: Divergence, instability and exclusion: regional dynamics in Great Britain. In R. Lee and J. Wills, eds, Geographies of economies, ch. 20. London and New York: Arnold, 259-77. Hirschman, A.O. 1958: The strategy of economic development. New Haven: Yale University Press. Johnston, R.J. 1986: The state, the region, and the division of labour. In A.J. Scott and M. Storper, eds, Production, work, territory. The geographical anatomy of industrial capitalism. Winchester, MA and London: Allen and Unwin, 265-80. Knox, P. and Agnew, J. 1994: The geography of the world-economy. London and New York: Arnold. Lee, R. 1989: Urban transformation: From problems in to the problem of the city. In D.T. Herbert and D.M. Smith, eds, Social problems and the city, ch. 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 60-77. Markusen, A. 1986: Neither ore, nor coal, nor markets: A policy-oriented view of steel sites in the USA. Regional Studies 20 5: 449-61. Markusen, A. 1987: Regions. The economics and politics of territory. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. Massey, D. 1979: In what sense a regional problem? Regional Studies 13 2: 233-43. Massey, D. 1995: Spatial divisions of labour. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: Methuen, ch. 6. Nairn, T. 1981: The break-up of Britain crisis and neo-nationalism. London: Verso. Vickerman, R.W. 1991: Infrastructure and regional development. London: Pion. Walker, R. 1997: California rages: regional capitalism and the politics of renewal. In R. Lee and J. Wills, eds, Geographies of economies, ch. 27. London and New York: Arnold, 345-56.

Suggested Reading Allen et al. (1998). Dunford (1997). Massey (1979). Walker (1997). Wannop, U. 1995: The regional imperative: regional planning and governance in Britain, Europe and the United States. London: Jessica Kingsley.



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