Frequently Asked Questions

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/16/2007 11:37:00 PM
Welcome! Through timely (and witty) commentary, the IPE Zone aims to be the world's premier outlet for blogging on the subject matter of international political economy. Its content has been referred to by media outlets such as Bloomberg, the Economist, the Financial Times, Forbes, Roubini Global Economics, Salon, Slate, the Times of India, the International Herald Tribune, National Public Radio, and the OECD among others. The IPE Zone has recently been made available on Amazon Kindle in addition to the LexisNexis database. This FAQ has notes about the field of IPE followed by those on this blog's modus operandi.

What is IPE? Read Michael Veseth’s primer. Or, for Andrew Walter and Gautam Sen, it is concerned with the way in which political and economic factors interact at the global level.

What are the main theoretical perspectives in IPE?
Basically, there are three main perspectives in IPE which borrow heavily from International Relations (IR) theory: Liberalism, Realism, and Marxism. Here’s a meat-and-potatoes summary of these perspectives:


Main Actors
Main Goal
View of Relationships
Classic Authors
Liberalism
Individuals
Individual Liberty
Positive-Sum
Adam Smith,
David Ricardo
Realism*

Nation-States
National Security
Zero-Sum
Thomas Hobbes,
Friedrich List
Marxism
Classes
Emancipation
Exploitative
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

* Realism applied to the economic realm is more commonly known as mercantilism

How does political economy differ from economics?

I'll make a few quotations here from the Gilpin book I mention somewhere below. You may be surprised that political economy as a term preceded economics...

For Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations (1776), political economy was a “branch of science of both the statesman or legislator” and a guide to the prudent management of the national economy, or as John Stuart Mill, the last major [political] economist, commented, political economy was the science that teaches a nation how to become rich. These thinkers emphasized the wealth of nations, and the term “political” was as significant as the term “economy.”

In the late nineteenth century, this broad definition of what economists study was narrowed considerably. Alfred Marshall, the father of modern economics, turned his back on the earlier emphasis on the nation as a whole and on the political as important. In his highly influential Principles of Economics (1890), Marshall substituted the present-day term “economics” for “political economy” and greatly restricted the domain of economic science. Following Marshall’s precept that economics was an empirical and value-free science, his disciple Lionel Robbins in The Nature and Significance of Economic Science provided the definition which most present-day economists subscribe: “Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” In more modern terminology, economics is defined by economists as a universal science of decision-making under conditions of constraint and scarcity (pp. 25-6).

The scope of economic science, however, is too limited and its theories much too abstract for the purposes of international political economy. The strength of political science lies in its broad emphasis on the “realities” of the universal struggle among human beings, groups, and states for power and position. Its weakness lies in the intuitive nature of its methods and limited theoretical foundations (p. 40).

In the 1955 edition of his influential textbook Economics, Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson coined the term “neoclassical synthesis” to characterize the theoretical consensus of professional economists. Samuelson was referring to the consensus that professional economists had achieved through integration of microeconomics (associated with Alfred Marshall and other leading economists of the late nineteenth century) with the new macroeconomics set forth by John Maynard Keynes in his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936; p. 46).

For many economists, economics is better defined by its methodological approach than by its precise subject matter. As [Paul] Krugman has noted, the tools define the subject for the economist, and the domain of economics is determined by the range and applicability of its methods. Gary Becker, an influential proponent of this view, sets forth in his book, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (1976), the basic assumptions underlying economics methodology and, thus, the economic approach to the study of social, political and all other forms of behavior. The assumptions he discusses are:

Economics assumes rational ends/means calculations or “maximizing behavior more extensively and explicitly” than do other social sciences.

Rational or maximizing behavior guides efforts to obtain or maintain “stable preferences.” These preferences are not for specific items such as oranges versus apples, but for such basic aspects of life such as food, honor, prestige, health, benevolence, and especially wealth. Economics assumes that people everywhere, regardless of their social condition, differ little on these basics. Economics is therefore considered to be a universal science of human behavior, and its methods and assumptions are believed applicable to all times and all places, whether fifth-century Greece or contemporary industrial Japan. [Economics as ahistorical and culturally "neutral"].

Markets develop naturally in order to coordinate, with varying degrees of efficiency, the actions of different participants (p. 51).

For students of political economy, the ceteris paribus (other things being equal) caveat offered by economists is exceptionally significant because political factors and social institutions do affect the outcome of economic activities and are rarely equal in their consequences. For this reason alone, the problem of the validity of the assumptions on which economics is based cannot be as easily dismissed as [Milton] Friedman and other economists would like (p. 63).

This IPE stuff sounds interesting. Where can I read more about it?

With a few minor caveats, the best overview of IPE is still Robert Gilpin’s Global Political Economy. If you’d like something in more of a “textbook” format, Theodore Cohn’s Global Political Economy is a fine choice, as is Robert O’Brien and Marc William’s book entitled—you guessed it—Global Political Economy. At the risk of sounding repetitive, another (edited) work which contains a lot of articles covering the themes Veseth talks about is John Ravenhill’s Global Political Economy.

What sort of journals cover IPE?

All sorts of mainstream and specialized geography, political science, sociology, and economics journals cover IPE-related material. However, there are three particular journals that cover this field more closely--in name at least. The Review of Political Economy (based at Johns Hopkins University), New Political Economy (Sheffield), and Global Governance (Warwick) are usually considered as the main scholarly publications for IPE. Again, however, the interdisciplinary nature of the field means that you will find all sorts of IPE-related articles in sociology, business, and other social science journals.

Should you wish to contact us having read the above, send a note to zoneofipe AT gmail.com. NOTE: We do not accept ads or paid placement to maintain editorial integrity. 

Why is there no comments section in your blog?

I used to have one when blogging was new as it was a novelty to invite reader feedback. Nowadays, however, every mainstream media site incorporates reader comments, so the novelty factor is long gone. You can now comment on the Economist, WSJ, the FT...or even USA Today and Yahoo! News. Been there, done that, saw the movie, bought the T-shirt. If you really have a lot to say, you will get better attribution building a blog of your own (which is free and takes less than five minutes on Blogger) than slumming in someone else's comments section.

Your blog seems very eclectic. Is its subject matter really about international political economy?

Yes. IPE has been described by Anthony Payne as a "notoriously diverse field of study," which is what you'd expect from the vast range of possible topics and interpretations at the intersection of international politics and international economics. The late IPE pioneer Susan Strange believed that IPE "is still unfenced, still open to all comers" and that the study of IPE "would do well to stay an open range, like the old Wild West, accessible...to literate people to all walks of life." That kind of thinking animates this blog.

While the American School of IPE may be more emblematic of the disciplinary compartmentalization prevalent Stateside, the British School of IPE which I adhere to is more tolerant of multidisciplinary work. Accordingly, I am wary of pretentious folks who believe their approach or ideology has a monopoly on the truth. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping, to me it doesn't matter if the approach is black or white, as long as it helps shed light on contemporary problematiques in a logically cohesive fashion.

What is this "subprime globalization" mentioned in your subtitle?

This term I came up with refers most to global economic imbalances currently roiling the world economy. Basically, greater global financial integration has allowed rich countries to pile their wasteful, unproductive government and household spending on the backs of poor countries. The current crisis roiling the world economy demonstrates that this situation is not only unsustainable but also unjust. It is a goal of this blog to point out subprime globalization's pitfalls and offer potential solutions. For a clear example of subprime globalization, see a post on the US-China relationship as Exhibit A1.

In a more general sense, subprime globalization refers to vexing international political economy problematiques which require attention to make them, well, prime examples of globalization.

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