“A Marriage of Convenience” became the best metaphor, coined in 1990 by distinguished American economist Sidney Weintraub to summarize the fundamentals under which NAFTA was built and understood, at least in mainstream analysis: the economic complementarities existing among the three countries of North America could work to the benefit of everyone involved if economic integration is well managed and geared toward the improvement of regional competitiveness. Thus, NAFTA became the privileged tool under which managed integration became implemented and assessed, at least in three major domains: as a foreign policy tool to advance the interests of each nation, as an economic device to reap the benefits of integration, and as the backbone under which a regional political and social bloc could eventually be constructed.
Scholars, intellectuals, and public officials engaged in the discussions around NAFTA in each of those fields shared ideas, built some consensus, and split on dissents following competing approaches and/or national cleavages. The current literature in those three major fields of discussion is rich, voluminous, and highly inspiring, sometimes making references to other integrative experiences. This article reviews these debates and highlights either the consensus or dissention witnessed in each of the three domains under which NAFTA has been discussed the most. Since NAFTA cannot be separated from the political and social contexts that the debates and discussions took place in, a reference to those political contexts can be made when explaining and summarizing the debates.
At a time when the mainstream consensus around NAFTA is being challenged by U.S. President Trump’s assumption that NAFTA is not about complementary economies but about economies competing against each other under a zero-sum game rationale, politics comes back to the forefront of North American affairs. The renegotiation of NAFTA will doubtless redefine the partnership among the three North American countries and the role that economic cooperation and integration entails for each.
Hanna Niczyporuk, Marko Klašnja, and Joshua A. Tucker
Corruption—the misuse of public office for private or political gain—has a detrimental effect on a variety of economic and political outcomes. Unfortunately, reducing corruption is a difficult task. Persistent differences exist across and even within countries, which unfortunately appear to be quite sticky, which scholars have referred to as the “corruption trap.” This trap can be understood as an equilibrium arising from the inability—and unwillingness—of key stakeholders to coordinate on actions that would reduce corruption. A rich literature has focused on coordination challenges among bureaucrats or between bureaucrats and private actors. We argue, however, for the importance of considering political factors in perpetuating these corruption traps. From this perspective, corruption traps can arise from coordination challenges and breakdowns among and between three key sets of political actors: incumbent politicians, the pool of possible political entrants, and voters. There are challenges faced by each set of actors, their interactions, and ways in which these challenges could potentially be overcome. Three particular processes may help or hinder the ability to break out of corruption traps: (1) collective action and coordination among voters, (2) strategic obstruction by incumbents, and (3) mechanisms of political selection and the availability of non-corrupt challengers.
The battle over state redistribution, and the means to pay for welfare transfers, lies at the heart of contemporary political economy. This has been one of the central plinths of political science research on the advanced industrial democracies, and we now have a good understanding of the dynamics of spending and taxation in these countries, rooted in the power of the left and labor movements, together with the embedded liberal compromise. These explanations, however, struggle to explain tax and spending outcomes across Latin America. This is largely because the pressures of globalization, rather than embedded liberalism, drive efficiency concerns in Latin America; across the region, the left often behaves in unanticipated ways, and redistribution comes in many forms. These effects are compounded by the power of business interests across the region and the heterogeneity of voter preferences when it comes to spending and taxation. More research is needed on both the macro and micro level dynamics of taxation and social spending in Latin America.
Federico Maria Ferrara and Thomas Sattler
The relationship between politics and financial markets is central for many, if not most, political economy arguments. The existing literature focuses on the effect of domestic and international political interests, institutions, and policy decisions on returns and volatility in stock, bond, and foreign exchange markets. This research bears implications for three major debates in political science: the distributive effects of politics, globalization and state autonomy, and the political roots of economic credibility and its tensions with democratic accountability. While the study of politics and financial markets is complicated by several theoretical and empirical challenges, recent methodological innovations in political research provide a window of opportunity for the development of the field.
Which risks are social and which are private? How much of their GDP do states spend on social welfare? Who exactly is entitled to which benefits? Is it still possible to finance an encompassing welfare state in times of deindustrialization, technological and demographic change, and globalization? And why do the answers to these questions differ so much across countries? These and similar questions—all central to social cohesion in capitalist democracies—ensure that the analysis of welfare politics is one of the theoretically as well as methodologically most dynamic and richest research areas within comparative political economy and political science more generally. Besides outlining the comparative development and the difficulty of measuring social policy, the focus of this contribution lies in a critical review of the most important past and current theoretical debates in the field of welfare state research, as a subfield of comparative political economy. These debates include party- and power-resource-centered approaches and their critiques, institutional explanations of welfare state retrenchment and restructuring, and the importance of multidimensional distributional effects for the analysis of social policy. The article concludes with a review of three more recent debates: the importance of public opinion and individual preferences for the development of the welfare state, the interaction of social policy and the changes of party systems, and the increasing relevance of social investment policies. The political and scientific need for innovative political science research will continue for the foreseeable future: Theory building and methodological possibilities are developing quickly, and the welfare states as research subject are constantly being challenged.
The term ownership society is commonly used to describe a suite of policies promoted during the second George W. Bush administration that sought, among other things, to increase popular ownership of housing and financial assets. The ownership society was always in large part an attempt at social engineering. That attempt rests on two premises: first, that asset ownership pushes individuals’ politics to the right; and second, that governments can engineer a more right-leaning populace by promoting asset ownership.
While the term was novel, the ideas were not. Bush’s ownership society bore more than a striking resemblance to Thatcher’s “enterprise society,” for example, and similar ideas percolated in some quarters of Latin American neoliberalism of the 1980s and 1990s. But foreign referents are in this case not necessary; the ownership society was in large part an expansion of a preexisting American tradition of promoting private ownership explicitly for its capacity to transform the owner’s politics.
Despite its consistent appeal to right-of-center governments, political science has not come to any tidy conclusions about whether the ownership society exists or, if it does exist, how it works and how it interacts with financial and housing markets. Turmoil in those markets over the past 10 years, and the accompanying political fallout, underline the need to consolidate what we know about the ownership society and to set a course for theoretical and empirical development.
Two themes in the literature are particularly noteworthy as it moves forward. First, there is a substantial contrast between “static” and “dynamic” theories of ownership society politics. Static theories argue that the fact of asset ownership per se affects the owner’s politics; dynamic theories look more toward movements in asset markets, arguing that asset ownership’s political effects vary according to the financial consequences of that ownership on the individual. While the latter appears to better fit the empirical evidence, the relevant scope conditions—when should we expect a dynamic theory to obtain, and where should we expect a static theory to obtain—remain unclear. Second, the empirical study of the ownership society is made difficult by the fact that asset ownership is virtually never randomly assigned, and the political antecedents of asset ownership are difficult to convincingly control for using observational data. In lieu of a perfect research design, better communication between observational and experimental studies can help move the literature forward.
The surge in the appointments of technocrats to the top economic portfolios of finance since the 2009 Great Recession, and even the formation of fully technocratic governments in Europe, raises questions regarding the role of technocrats and technocratic governments in economic policy in democracies. Who are the technocrats? Why are they appointed in the first place? What is their impact on economic policy, and finally what are their sources of policy influence?
Surprisingly, we know little about the role of technocrats in economic policy despite their prominent presence in Eastern Europe since the early 90s and in Latin America since the early 80s. Technocrats were behind major market-conforming reforms in Latin America with lasting economic and political effects in the region. Technocrats we also appointed in many former Eastern European countries to reform the system of production and the labor market. Yet, to this day, we have little systematic knowledge and even less cross-regional comparative work on the policy effects of technocratic appointments.
Moreover, the term “technocrat” itself does have a shared meaning and is not uniformly used by scholars across the European and American continents, further inhibiting the study of technocrat policymakers. This article seeks to advance the study of technocratic government by providing a clear definition of a technocrat and of technocracy more generally; by reviewing the extant literature on the role of technocrats in economic policy with a special focus on the sources of their policy influence and finally by proposing a theoretical framework for understanding the role of technocrats as policymakers.
All governments require revenue, and domestic taxes are the primary means for generating it. Yet both the size and shape of taxation vary significantly across countries and have been transformed over time. What explains variation in domestic taxation? To answer this question, recent scholarship on taxation has focused on the politics of taxation as a tool for redistribution. This has led to a wide body of research on the fiscal impact of taxation and on the introduction, evolution, and variation in direct and progressive tax regimes, particularly the income tax. Yet the focus on taxation as a redistributive tool yields a puzzle, as more progressive tax systems tend to be found where redistribution is in fact the lowest. Explanations of this paradox often center on the impossibility of high and progressive taxes on capital in the context of international economic integration. Not as well studied are taxes other than the taxation of income, and the deliberate politics of nonfiscal, regulatory, and incentive effects of different tax choices. Methodologically, problems of endogeneity are ubiquitous in the study of tax policy choices, but more sophisticated experimental work is well underway in research on individual preferences for taxation.
Christina J. Schneider
How does domestic politics affect international cooperation? Even though classic work on international relations already acknowledges the central role of domestic politics in international relations, the first generation of scholarly work on international cooperation focused almost exclusively on the international sources of cooperation. Theories that explicitly link domestic politics and international cooperation did not take a more prominent place in the scholarly work on international cooperation until the late 1980s.
Recent research analyzes how interests and institutions at the domestic level affect the cooperation of governments at the international level. The analysis is structured along a political economy model, which emphasizes the decision making calculus of office-motivated political leaders who find themselves under pressure by different societal groups interested in promoting or hindering international cooperation. These pressures are conveyed, constrained, and calibrated by domestic institutions, which provide an important context for policy making, and in particular for the choice to cooperate at the international level. This standard political economy model of domestic politics is embedded within models of international cooperation, which entail decisions by governments about (a) whether to cooperate (and to comply with international agreements), (b) how to distribute the gains and costs from cooperation, (c) and how to design cooperation as to maximize the likelihood that the public good will be provided.
Domestic politics is significant to explain all aspects of international cooperation. The likelihood that governments engage in international cooperation does not only depend on international factors, but is also and sometimes predominantly driven by the demands of societal groups and variations in institutional structures across countries. Domestic factors can explain how governments behave in distributive negotiations, whether they can achieve advantageous deals, and if negotiations succeed to produce an international collective action. They also contribute to our understanding about whether and how governments comply with international agreements, and consequently, how the design of international institutions affects government compliance. More recently, scholars have become interested in the democratic responsiveness of governments when they cooperate at the international level. Whereas research is still sparse, emerging evidence points to responsive conduct of governments particularly when international cooperation is politicized at the national level.
Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney
Heterodox work in Global Political Economy (GPE) finds its motive force in challenging the ontological atomism of International Political Economy (IPE) orthodoxy. Various strains of heterodoxy that have grown out of dependency theory and World-Systems Theory (WST), for example, emphasize the social whole: Individual parts are given form and meaning within social relations of domination produced by a history of violence and colonial conquest. An atomistic approach, they stress, seems designed to ignore this history of violence and relations of domination by making bargaining among independent units the key to explaining the current state of international institutions. For IPE, it is precisely this atomistic approach, largely inspired by the ostensible success of neoclassical economics, which justifies its claims to scientific rigor. International relations can be modeled as a market-like space, in which individual actors, with given preferences and endowments, bargain over the character of international institutional arrangements. Heterodox scholars’ treatment of social processes as indivisible wholes places them beyond the pale of acceptable scientific practice. Heterodoxy appears, then, as the constitutive outside of IPE orthodoxy.
Heterodox GPE perhaps reached its zenith in the 1980s. Just as heterodox work was being cast out from the temple of International Relations (IR), heterodox scholars, building on earlier work, produced magisterial studies that continue to merit our attention. We focus on three texts: K. N. Chaudhuri’s Asia Before Europe (1990), Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History (1982), and L. S. Stavrianos’s Global Rift (1981). We select these texts for their temporal and geographical sweep and their intellectual acuity. While Chaudhuri limits his scope to the Indian Ocean over a millennium, Wolf and Stavrianos attempt an anthropology and a history, respectively, of European expansion, colonialism, and the rise of capitalism in the modern era. Though the authors combine different elements of material, political, and social life, all three illustrate the power of seeing the “social process” as an “indivisible whole,” as Schumpeter discusses in the epigram below. “Economic facts,” the region, or time period they extract for detailed scrutiny are never disconnected from the “great stream” or process of social relations. More specifically, Chaudhuri’s work shows notably that we cannot take for granted the distinct units that comprise a social whole, as does the IPE orthodoxy. Rather, such units must be carefully assembled by the scholar from historical evidence, just as the institutions, practices, and material infrastructure that comprise the unit were and are constructed by people over the longue durée. Wolf starts with a world of interaction, but shows that European expansion and the rise and spread of capitalism intensified cultural encounters, encompassing them all within a global division of labor that conditioned the developmental prospects of each in relation to the others. Stavrianos carries out a systematic and relational history of the First and Third Worlds, in which both appear as structural positions conditioned by a capitalist political economy. By way of conclusion, we suggest that these three works collectively inspire an effort to overcome the reification and dualism of agents and structures that inform IR theory and arrive instead at “flow.”