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Between Militarism and Neoliberalism: The American State and Developmental Politics in a Globalizing Era


Since the 1970s, developmentalism in the United States has been overshadowed by the rise of neoliberalism. However recent scholarship finds a “hidden developmental” or “entrepreneurial” American state also emerging over this period as a surprisingly effective actor promoting new innovations. Inspired by these findings, the first part of the dissertation investigates the puzzle of why “developmental” institutional arrangements and activities have emerged in the US since the 1970s only in the domain of science and technology policy. To approach this question, the dissertation examines two cases of developmental politics—political struggles to institutionalize or preserve within the state the capacity to promote domestic productive capabilities. The second part of the dissertation turns to the question of how developmentalism in the US has actually worked in a globalizing world. It does so through a comparative-historical analysis of the global rare earth materials supply chain that has linked the US, Japan, and China since World War II. Rare earth materials, used in environmental, commercial, and military technologies, became the focus of a high-profile political “crisis” in 2010.

Analysis of archival materials, committee hearing transcripts, government reports, and trade publications spanning decades, revealed that the key drivers of developmental politics were reformers emerging from enclaves within the state where developmental ideas or practices had begun to flourish. Yet their attempts to expand the state’s capacity to govern inward foreign direct investment and strategic materials failed in both cases. In the first case, failure was due to the opposition of state elites and organized class segments defending core class privileges; in the second, ideological resistance and institutional inertia were most decisive. Historical analysis of the rare earth supply chain revealed the consequences of these state-building failures, as the American state’s weak developmental capacities in other policy domains, especially trade and investment, were found to have accelerated the supply chain’s decisive shift to Japan and China. These findings do not dispute recent scholarship documenting expansions in the American state’s capacity to nurture innovation, but they do suggest that the state’s limited capacities in other policy domains have crippled its ability to support domestic productive capabilities.

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