Welcome to Politics 212: International Relations –
Week 3: Global Political Economy
This week we introduce a few ideas about global political economy. We’ll start (every week) with a review of our “four columns” – our four models of IR theory. Then we’ll take a selective tour of the role of economics in International Relations. First, we’ll see that each of our “four columns” has a set of corresponding economic ideas. Second, we’ll meet Keynes and Hayek, and explore how their key questions apply internationally. Next, we’ll look at a examples of International Political Economy at work. What has driven U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for the last 40 years? (Yes, oil, but that’s not enough of the answer, according to Andrew Bacevich.) And how can the U.S. play a positive role in the world economy? We’ll look at a good example from the Clinton era, and ask whether those lessons still apply. Finally, we’ll take a look at an important, and typically overlooked, aspect of international political economy – illicit, underground, illegal, whatever term you prefer. If international organized crime were measured as a country, one study found, it would be the 20th largest economy in the world.
One word on nomenclature. We’ve already discussed how “International Relations” itself is a dated term for what the relevant material really is – some “relations among states”, but also the impact of global manufacturing and finance, climate change, refugees, al Qaeda, etc.
So too IR Theory’s term “international political economy,” often IPE. IPE has at least two meanings. Sometimes, including for us this week, IPE is the general term for the study of the impact of politics on economics and the impact of economics on politics (with “international” scattered in there). Other times, the term IPE is used more narrowly, implying particular attention to that column of ours dealing with Marxist politics and economics (again, with “international” in there somewhere) – that is, sometimes IPE means a Marxist approach to the structural relationship between the United States (capital) and Latin America (labor), or something like this.
Some movement has been made to more accurately reflecting the field as “global political economy” (GPE) – recognizing that Exxon, Bitcoin, Google, and refugee crises are not sufficiently described as “political economy between nations (i.e., international).” Maybe you’ve already made the leap: “international relations” itself is hardly an accurate title for this field of study that includes so many essential elements that are not “nation-states”. “International Relations” is a long-outdated name for the field, but it is nevertheless still the dominant term; so too IPE.
I. Four Models of IR. We start this week, and every week, by looking at our four columns.
Realism? states in conflict. (We do call-and-response in class; imagine a one-room schoolhouse where the teacher says, “Realism?” and in unison the class responds, “States in Conflict!”)
Liberalism? (The bumper stickers get smaller print from here on.) “States and non-state actors, sometimes in conflict, sometimes in cooperation.” (Told ya.)
Marxism? “Capital exploits labor, north exploits south.” (Remember, these are short-cuts, not dissertation-length analyses.)
Constructivism? “Ideas, interests, and identities; flexible norms.” My own short-cut for this one is, “When things other than power and money matter most,” but I can’t find this quote in the scholarly literature yet. If you think each country should have a voice in a debate, no matter how rich or poor or small or large or well-behaving they are; if you believe a government’s commitment to human rights matters; if you believe that your god is better than everyone else’s god; if you think that states matter but they choose whether to see the world as Realist or something else; if you think the rules of global politics are “socially constructed” (agreements among people, and flexible/changeable) instead of natural (determined by nature) and immutable; if you don’t mind borrowing from Realism and Liberalism and adding your own stuff….then you might be a Constructivist. That’s a big bumper sticker.
II. Keynes and Hayek
John Maynard Keynes thinks there is an important role for government in the economy, especially when there is market failure. His ideas became FDR’s New Deal – huge government intervention (spending and laws) to address the Great Depression. The government should prevent wild up-and-down swings in the economy so it can prevent the social conditions that allow for a demagogic madman to take power. (Ahem, Germany.) After World War II, he thought the same ideas should apply globally: elites (incl. elites in govt) can and therefore should manage the global economy. And so we get the World Bank and IMF. Read more about Keynes
Friedrich Hayek was younger but a contemporary of Keynes – they argued directly with each other in correspondence, the academic journals, the halls of power, and occasionally in person. Hayek looked at World War I and said, the old order didn’t work – let’s try socialism. But then he did the math on socialism and determined that it wouldn’t work – it was missing the crucial tool of “prices” – governments can’t know how much stuff should cost, only the market can. Also, anytime the government gets involved in your stuff, it takes away a little of your freedom, until it’s all gone. Read more about Hayek
Our first video this week is long, but really pretty interesting. Get yourself a lemonade, settle in comfortably, and enjoy. At 39 minutes, it’s about the length of a podcast or episode of whatever you’re watching on Netflix. But it does a great job setting the stage. And, really, if you’re stuck somewhere and want to keep watching the whole two hours, go for it. 39 minutes video – a lot, but worth it (and easier than the 300 pages it covers 🙂
III. In An Uncertain World
Sometimes events outside a government’s control, or sometimes the effects of a government’s own policies, contribute to troubling outcomes. By late 1994, Mexico was in trouble: it would not be able to make payments on its debt to its various creditors. President Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his second year in the White House, facing Newt Gingrich and a new Republican House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Clinton and Gingrich faced the question: should the United States bail out Mexico, or let Mexico’s currency (and possibly its government) collapse.
You can watch Clinton’s chief economic advisor, Robert Rubin, discuss this with Gingrich and the Clinton team. Then optionally read the fuller version, Robert Rubin, In An Uncertain World, chapter 1, on Blackboard > Readings. (5 minute video)
IV. The Real World War IV
Andrew Bacevich was a career soldier, a retired Colonel from West Point, Vietnam, and the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War. From there he went to a Ph.D. at Princeton and a prolific academic career at Boston University. Bacevich became concerned about the overreliance of the United States and its citizenry on military solutions to geostrategic problems. He was especially opposed to the 2003 Iraq war. And then in 2007, he lost his son, 1LT Andrew Bacevich, Jr., to an IED in Balad, Iraq.
We look at who Bacevich blames for the militarization of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. If after WWI and WWII we unofficially consider the Cold War to be WWIII, then when does World War IV begin? Some might say when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001, or it began when al Qaeda flew planes into building September 11, or maybe it began with the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991, or some other time.
Bacevich says it began in the Carter era, in the late 1970s, when he told you to put on a sweater, and you said, “Hell, no! I’m Amer’can, and the Constitution says I get life, liberty, and cheap reliable oil from them Saudis, so make it happen, you peacenik peanut farmer hippie.” And so, President Carter began to put into place the ideas and treaties and materiel and training to secure, by military force if necessary, cheap reliable oil for Americans. Reagan, Bush, and Clinton continued this. And who does Bacevich blame? Find out here, in The Real World War IV. Take your time with it – it’s really one of my favorite articles on the American society, United States foreign policy, the politics of the Middle East, and of course IPE.
V. Transnational Organized Crime
In 2010, the United Nations published a report on transnational organized crime – a summary of some of the world’s illicit, “underground” economy. You should read at least the press release, the preface, and the introduction.
Take a look at this map from the report. Details have changed since 2010, but not the main story. A lot of it is what you might expect: drugs and people from South to North, weapons from North to South, etc. But most people don’t know that you may be closer to all this than you think – as close as your cell phone. Begin with this April 2017 summary from Deutsche-Welle. Understanding how it worked should make you very uncomfortable. There were efforts to address this; now, the Trump administration is considering repealing those efforts – that probably seems bad, but do the reform’s unintended consequences make repeal at lble a east worth discussing?
(Yes, Internet/cyber/social/etc. is a big new part of GPE. Don’t worry, we’ll do cyber in a future week.)
VI. The Growth of Populism
We’ve discussed that part of International Relations is understanding comparative politics. The rise of populism around the world has changed the context, the leaders, and policies in some major and minor powers. We’ll do more of this later, but we’ll just introduce it now with a column from a member of the Washington press corps. He’s stridently anti-Trump but also anti-Clinton, in the sense that the Clinton’s represent a wing of the Democratic party that chose Silicon Valley and Wall Street over Main Street. Read this short article as an introduction to something we’ll return to later.
Thomas Frank, On Democrats and Republicans Abandoning the Working Class, The Guardian, Nov 6, 2016 – the day before election day, Frank summarizes his years of complaining that neither party – especially his now tech-first Democratic Party – represents the working class
Ok, your turn…
There is really a lot to think about here. Take your time with these readings and videos, and then create your own prompts. You might want to go back and review What Makes a Good Post. And then:
— your essays here by Thursday night:
which of these issues above really made an impact on you? how do some of the issues coalesce, or contrast? which of these is really illuminating, or somehow not quite right? how does one of these help us understand what’s going on today? Probably about 400 words total
— your essay-replies (to your classmates’ essays) here by Sunday night:
some of your comments to each other have really been thoughtful and helpful and extended the discussion – read each other’s work humbly but critically – what are you learning from your classmates, or how are your thinking about something a little differently – it’s ok to disagree with each other and to ask each other questions, if what you’re really doing is making the conversation richer, fuller, and at the same time respectful and humble and civil. Probably 100-150 words total