The topic of fiscal politics includes taxation and spending, budget balances and debt levels, and crises and the politics of austerity. The discussion often focuses on how some variable—such as the international environment, or political institutions—constrains “politics” in this realm. Almost omnipresent concerns about endogeneity run through this research. While this is a “big” policy area that deserves study, tracing causation is difficult.
How Did American International Political Economy Become Reductionist? A Historiography of a Discipline
W. Kindred Winecoff
First-wave international political economy (IPE) was preoccupied with the “complex interdependencies” within a world system that (it believed) was rapidly devolving following the 1971 collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. The original IPE scholars were more dedicated to theorizing about the emergence and evolution of global systems than any strict methodology. As IPE developed, it began to emphasize the possibility that institutions could promote cooperation in an anarchic environment, so IPE scholarship increasingly studied the conditions under which these institutions might emerge.
Second-wave IPE scholars began to focus on the domestic “level of analysis” for explanatory power, and in particular analyzed the role of domestic political institutions in promoting global economic cooperation (or conflict). They also employed a “second-image reversed” paradigm in which the international system was treated as an explanatory variable that influenced the domestic policymaking process.
In opening up the “black box” of domestic politics, in particular as it pertained to foreign economic policy, the “American school” of IPE thoroughly explored the terrain with regression-based statistical models that assume observational independence. As a result, complex interdependencies in the global system were increasingly ignored. Over time the analytical focus progressively shifted to micro-level units—firms and individuals, whenever possible—using neoclassical economic theory as its logical underpinning (with complications for political factors). This third wave of IPE, “open economy politics,” has been criticized in the post-crisis period for its narrow focus, rigid methodology, and lack of systemic theory. Leading scholars have called modern IPE “boring,” “deplorable,” “myopic,” and “reductionist,” among other epithets.
A “fourth-wave” of IPE must retain its strong commitment to empiricism while re-integrating systemic processes into its analysis. A new class of complex statistical models is capable of incorporating interdependencies as well as domestic- and individual-level processes into a common framework. This will allow scholars to model the global political economy as an interdependent system consisting of multiple strata.
Margaret E. Peters
Immigration has largely been neglected as part of the study of International Political Economy (IPE) until recently. Currently, IPE scholars have focused on two questions regarding immigration: what explains variation in public opinion on immigration and what explains variation in immigration policy.
The scholarship on public opinion on immigration has largely been divided into two camps, those who argue that economic factors drive opinion and those who argue that cultural factors are the driver. Those who study the role economic factors have played in shaping opinion on immigration often start with the Stolper-Samuelson theorem. The Stolper-Samuelson theorem shows that while immigration increases the overall size of the economy, it has different distributional effects. Immigration increases the size of the labor pool and, thus, should increase the returns to capital while decreasing wages. As such, those who derive most of their income from capital should favor immigration while those who derive most of their income from wages should oppose immigration. Additionally, the Stolper-Samuelson model shows that openness to trade should have the same effects as open immigration; thus, people should oppose or favor both trade and immigration. Early scholarship examined these predictions and found that opposition to immigration was much higher than opposition to trade and that those who derive much of their income from capital also oppose immigration at high rates. In response, one set of scholars focused on the additional costs that immigration, but not trade, brings. Immigrants, unlike goods, may place a burden on the social welfare system and thus, opposition to immigration especially by the wealthy may be driven by these costs. Other scholars noted that immigrants work in many industries that are unaffected by trade—most notably the service sector—and this may explain opposition to immigration. Finally, a third group has argued that opposition to immigration is largely driven by cultural concerns and xenophobia. Currently, this debate continues with both sides examining more nuanced survey data.
Scholarship on immigration policy has similar divides. Immigration policy has become more restrictive since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when most countries had very few restrictions on immigration. To explain these restrictions, one school of scholars has argued that labor unions oppose immigration, as it hurts the wages of their members. As unions gain strength, immigration should become more restricted. Others focus on the rise of the welfare state, arguing that immigration has been restricted to keep costs low. A third group has argued that greater political rights in the early and mid-20th century for the generally xenophobic working class has led to the restrictions. Finally, new scholarship argues that increased globalization—in the form of increased trade and increased foreign direct investment—has sapped business support for immigration, which has allowed anti-immigrant groups to have more say. Using a wealth of newly collected data, scholars are testing these different theories.
What does current scholarship suggest about the relationship between the rights of workers in the developing world and the global economy? Contemporary multinational production includes both direct ownership of manufacturing facilities abroad and arm’s length subcontracting and supply chain relationships. Thus far, political economists have paid greater attention to the former; there are various reasons to expect that multinational firms may have positive, rather than negative, effects on workers’ rights. For instance, some multinationals are interested in hiring at the top end of local labor markets, and high standards serve as a tool for recruitment and retention. Multinationals also could bring “best practices” from their home countries to their local hosts, and some face pressure from shareholders and consumers—given their visibility in their home locations—to act in “socially responsible” ways. Hence, while directly owned production does not automatically lead to the upgrading of labor standards, it can do so under some conditions.
Supply chain production is likely more mixed in its consequences for workers. Such production involves arm’s length, subcontracted production, in which multiple potential suppliers typically compete to attract business from lead firms. Such production often includes more labor-intensive activities; minimizing costs (including labor costs) and lowering production times can be key to winning subcontracts. We may therefore expect that subcontracted production is associated with greater violations of labor rights. It is worth noting, however, that research regarding the consequences of supply chain production—and the conditions under which such production may lead to improvements for workers—is less advanced than scholarship related to foreign direct investment.
The governance of labor rights in a supply chain framework is marked by several challenges. It is often difficult for lead firms, even those that wish to protect worker rights, to effectively monitor compliance in their subcontractor facilities. This becomes more difficult as the length and breadth of supply chains grow; private governance and corporate social responsibility have therefore not always lived up to their promise. Rather, achieving labor protections in a supply chain framework often requires both private and public sector efforts—that is, governments that are willing to privilege the rights of workers over the rights of local factory owners and governments that are willing to enact and implement legal protections of core labor rights. Such government actions, when coupled with private sector–based capacity building, codes of conduct, and regular monitoring, offer the most promise for protecting labor rights within global supply chains. Finally, governments of developed countries also may play a role, if they are willing to credibly link working conditions abroad with market access at home.
Laase Aaskoven and David Dreyer Lassen
The political budget cycle—how elections affect government fiscal policy—is one of the most studied subjects in political economy and political science. The key theoretical question is whether incumbent governments can time or structure public finances in ways that improve their chances of reelection; the key empirical question is whether this in fact happens. The incentives of incumbents to engage in such electioneering are governed by political institutions, observability of political choices, and their consequences, as well as voter knowledge, and both theoretical and empirical studies on political budget cycles have recently focused on conditions under which such cycles are likely to obtain. Much recent research focuses on subnational settings, allowing comparisons of governments in similar institutional environments, and a consensus on the presences of cycles in public finances—and in the reporting of public finances—is beginning to emerge.
First-generation research in International Political Economy focused considerable attention on the relationship between hegemony and global economic stability. This focus was the result of a confluence of scholarly and policy concerns about the impact that the apparent decline of U.S. hegemony would have on international trade and investment regimes. Interest in this hegemonic stability hypothesis waned, however, as deeper explorations of the theoretical logic indicated that hegemony was not a necessary condition for international economic openness, and as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent “unipolar moment” suggested that American hegemony was hardly in decline.
Interest in hegemony resurfaced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis triggered many scholars to proclaim the end of the era of American global hegemony. Scholars argued that the U.S. government’s attachment to a large budget and trade deficits and the resulting growth of foreign debt were likely to weaken foreign confidence in the dollar and encourage the shift to an alternative reserve currency such as the Euro. At the same time, China’s rapid industrialization and emergence as a large creditor nation was creating a new pole in the international economy that constituted a meaningful alternative to a global economy organized around the United States’ economy. Thus, a shift toward a Beijing hegemony was all but inevitable.
The predicted decline of American hegemony has yet to materialize. The U.S. economy remains the world’s largest, and the U.S. government continues to play the leading role in system making—creating new rules to govern international economic cooperation—and in privilege taking—manipulating these rules in ways that advantage U.S. public and private sector actors. Moreover, the U.S. government plays this role in all three economic subsystems: finance, knowledge, and production. Empirical scholarship conducted over the last decade encourages one to conclude by paraphrasing Mark Twain: Recent reports of the death of American hegemony are premature.
The recent global economic crisis has renewed interest in the nature and history of monetary policy, the distributional effects of central bank policy, central bank governance, and the personalities at the helm of major central banks. In modern times, a country’s central bank formulates, or, to a minimum, implements, a country’s monetary policy, or the process of adjustment of a country’s money supply to achieve some combination of stable prices and sustainable economic growth. Monetary policy depends heavily on a country’s exchange rate system. Under fixed exchange rates, the country’s commitment to keep the level of the currency at a certain level dictates monetary policy to a great degree. As the gold standard was unraveling after World War I, many countries experienced high inflation or even hyperinflation. A similar situation faced monetary policy after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in the 1970s. By the 1980s, however, countries turned toward central bank independence as an institutional arrangement to control inflation. The current issues surrounding monetary policy have emerged from the historical increase in central bank independence and the 2007 economic and financial crisis. In particular, the opacity of central bank decisions, given their autonomy to pursue stable prices without political interference, has increased the demand for transparency and communication with the government, the public, and financial markets. Also, the 2007 crisis pushed central banks toward unconventional measures and macro-prudential regulation, and brought back into focus the monetary policy of the euro area.
To what extent is the “Euro-crisis” a problem for the EU’s international standing and role? A conceptual framework has been developed based on the five distinct analytical categories: (a) financial resources, (b) changes in the internal political structure and balance of the European Union, (c) shift of priorities, (d) output and effectiveness of EU foreign policy, and (d) soft power and normative dimension. These categories reveal that in Europe, the crisis led to an erosion of the financial and budgetary basis of foreign policy—even if it is more pronounced on the national than the European level. It also accelerated a trend toward the economization of political priorities resulting—among other things—in deepening conflicts among EU member states. These developments have, in turn, eroded both the effectiveness and the soft power of EU foreign policy. The crisis is therefore not only a strain on the European integration process but also a central challenge for the European Union as an international actor.
Since the 1970s, financial crises have been a consistent feature of the international economy, warranting study by economists and political scientists alike. Economists have made great strides in their understanding of the dynamics of crises, with two potentially overlapping stories rising to the fore. Global crises appear to occur highly amid global imbalances—when some countries run large current account deficits and others, large surpluses. A second story emphasizes credit booms—financial institutions greatly extend access to credit, potentially leading to bubbles and subsequent crashes.
Global imbalances are, in part, the product of politically contested processes. Imbalances would be impossible if states did not choose to liberalize (or not to liberalize) their capital accounts. Global political structures—whether international institutions seeking to govern financial flows, or hierarchies reflecting an economic power structure among states—also influence the ability of the global system to resolve global imbalances. Indeed, economists themselves are increasingly finding evidence that the international economy is not a flat system, but a network where some states play larger roles than others.
Credit booms, too, and the regulatory structures that produce them, result from active choices by states. The expansion of the financial sector since the 1970s, however, took place amid a crucible of fire. Financial deregulation was the product of interest group knife-fights, states’ vying for position or adapting to technological change, and policy entrepreneurs’ seeking to enact their ideas.
The IPE (international political economy) literature, too, must pay attention to post-2008 developments in economic thought. As financial integration pushes countries to adopt the monetary policies of the money center, the much-discussed monetary trilemma increasingly resembles a dilemma. Whereas economists once thought of expanded access to credit as “financial development,” they increasingly lament the preponderance of “financialized” economies. While the experimentalist turn in political science heralded a great search for cute natural experiments, economists are increasingly turning to the distant past to understand phenomena that have not been seen for some time. Political scientists might benefit from returning to the same grand theory questions, this time armed with more rigorous empirical techniques, and extensive data collected by economic historians.