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Capitalism, the state and health care in the age of austerity: a Marxist analysis

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Abstract:

Abstract

The capacity to provide satisfactory nursing care is being increasingly compromised by current trajectories of healthcare funding and governance. The purpose of this paper is to examine how well Marxist theories of the state and its relationship with capital can explain these trajectories in this period of ever‐increasing austerity. Following a brief history of the current crisis, it examines empirically the effects of the crisis, and of the current trajectory of capitalism in general, upon the funding and organization of the UK and US healthcare systems. The deleterious effect of growing income inequalities to the health of the population is also addressed. Marx's writings on the state and its relation to the capitalist class were fragmentary and historically and geographically specific. From them, we can extract three theoretical variants: the instrumentalist theory of the state, where the state has no autonomy from capital; the abdication theory, whereby capital abstains from direct political power and relies on the state to serve its interests; and the class‐balance theory, whereby the struggle between two opposed classes allows the state to assert itself. Discussion of modern Marxist interpretations includes Poulantzas's abdication theory and Miliband's instrumentalist theory. It is concluded that, despite the pluralism of electoral democracies, the bourgeoisie do have an overweening influence upon the state. The bourgeoisie's ownership of the means of production provides the foundation for its influence because the state is obliged to rely on it to manage the supply of goods and services and the creation of wealth. That power is further reinforced by the infiltration of the bourgeoisie into the organs of state. The level of influence has accelerated rapidly over recent decades. One of the consequences of this has been that healthcare systems have become rich pickings for the evermore confident bourgeoisie.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1466-769X.2012.00556.x

Affiliations: Professor, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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