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2019 Summer Online – Politics 212: International Relations
Week 3: July 15

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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.

Look over our columns carefully, and then try to summarize each column.

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.

un transnational organized crime map

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

Ok, let’s have fun


4 Replies to “212-ir-2019-july15”

  1. Coltan and Cobalt are not the first supply and mineral that has funded militaristic, rebel efforts, and, unfortunately, they will not be the last. For this post I wanted to focus my discussion on analzying different solutions to the inhumane way that products are being created, and how solutions affect certain economies differently. One of the quotes from the readings that struck me the most was “Until now, this question has been avoided on the basis that it is too sensitive or could derail peace talks,” which was said by Patrick Alley, the director of Global Witness. While it may not be an easy conversation to have, it is a necessary one. Not only are citizens who are already living in very impoverished conditions, being exploited but children are being forced to work against their will, and in some cases even being sexually abused. While the solution may seem simple “let’s all stop buying smart phones,” the reality is not so straightforward. First, it would not only hurt the United States economy, but it could also cause the workers in these countries to be paid even less than they already are, if prices rise. If prices rise, the black market will continue to grow, which only leads to more mendacious activities. So, if the solution is not to ban or limit the sales of products of Cobalt or Coltan, then what is? While I do not know for sure, I personally believe that our efforts in finding a solution should be less on limiting the exportation and spending more money on the actual process of mining the ore itself, even if it causes the price of the product to rise. It’s a harsh reality, but in most circumstances Americans could afford a 70 dollar price increase on a product, but the citizens that are being taken advantage of in these countries can not afford a smaller salary. First, companies should invest money in finding a process such as the Kimberley Process, to help guarantee that these minerals are being minded legally. The answer is to not take away the few legal jobs that these citizens have, because that forces them to find money with other methods, and in desperate situations, even illegal ways. The troops that we already have over there should be focused on shutting down the black market, which is where a lot of this corruption is springing from. In addition, sending funds to help the legal aspect of this business could help the environment. The Made for Minds’ article explains how a lot of these mines, which are not regulated are harming the nearby environment. Legislators should not focus their energy on creating tariffs and embargoes because it is not going to be as effective as helping the problem at the source. This problem affects Americans because many of us are using products that we do not realize are being made under inhumane conditions. Citizens from all countries should realize how the products that they are using are being produced, and a small increase in the price of an Iphone is more than worth creating a better life for citizens in other nations.

  2. I’ll focus primarily on “The Real World War IV” since I found this reading very interesting. I disagree with some of the points that Bacevich makes but I agree generally with his overarching theme; that the U.S. has become overreliant on military force.

    One of the most objectionable aspects of this reading was his characterization of the motives behind “World War IV.” He states that “From the outset, dominance was the aim and the driving force behind U.S. actions in World War IV—not preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, not stemming the spread of terror, certainly not liberating oppressed peoples or advancing the cause of women’s rights” He supports this claim by asserting that this was because foreign policy elites had identified the region as critically important for the United States. I agree with this point, it is obvious that the United States has geostrategic and economic interests in the region. However, I think he mischaracterizes the motives based on the outcomes of using the blunt instrument that is the U.S. military. Our military is the finest in the world but we have asked it and those who serve in it to do things the military as a whole is not equipped to do or to achieve goals that would be better attained through other means. I rather than discounting the motivations that Bacevich mentions the phrase “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” (and poorly managed blunt instruments) is fitting. I think it may be unfair to characterize the intent as solely domination of a region based on the way the conflict has unfolded.

    Apart from that, I wholeheartedly agree with Bacevich’s main point. The military certainly plays an important role but not only has the effectiveness of our military to achieve geostrategic goals been diminished but the landscape of conflict has changed to the point where conventional military forces may become near inconsequential in coming years outside of some function of deterrence. This ties into the first video this week specifically to when Bill Clinton was discussing how globalization has made us further interconnected in many ways but especially our economies. In the modern world, employing our military to fight for strategic interests may no longer be a viable option economically due to our economic interdependence. While I would assess this as a net positive because it makes war less likely due to the cost, if we are dependent on the military to compete, we are handicapped by globalization. In favor of building a strong military, we have allowed various tools of soft power, tools vital for employing wholistic strategy without employing direct military force, to atrophy and die. Without these tools, protecting our strategic interests and competing with rising powers will be nearly impossible.

  3. Of all the topics this week, the one that made the biggest impact on me was Transnational Organized Crime. Not only did it get me thinking, but I think this topic sheds lights on something that many people don’t see as a big issue, but really has chain reactions. The title of the first article was pretty self-explanatory in and of itself. “Organized Crime Has Globalized and Turned into a Security Threat.” I thought this article was very well written and found it super interesting. As we face more economic globalization, we also face the reality that not all countries are living in the same developed/advanced/successful governance. As this transnational crime picks up between 3rd,2nd, and 1st world countries we deal with what the head of UNODC warned, a threat to peace and development, even to sovereign nations. There were three facts in this article that particularly stood out to me. 1. That there are an estimated 140,000 victims of human trafficking annually in Europe alone. This was absolutely disgusting to me to read. We are constantly taught about slavery in the founding of America but the awareness surrounding modern-day trafficking is lacking. I personally know someone that fell victim to this and it is one of those things that you never think will happen to you because we don’t see it to be as big of an issue as it really it. 2. Russia is now the largest national heroin consumer in the world. I am not sure who I expected to be the largest consumer but Russia definitely wasn’t on my list. 3. Illicit fire-arms make up for 10-20% of the illicit market. I would like to see how these numbers have changed, specifically in the U.S. and also countries with strict gun control to see the correlation. With all of the debate over gun control, this is one thing that has been in the back of my head that I have always wondered. Drugs are illegal but people still find them. If someone wants a gun and they make up so much of the illicit market, how do we regulate that? Mr. Costa talks about the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. I agree that to combat any of these transnational crimes we must develop a good international partnership. Too often the US is relied on. We have divisions like this in the CIA, FBI, and even specific Depts such as the department of energy but you cannot expect change if only one country is seriously fighting it. I also think that this is an issue we need to pay more attention too. For example, stricter border security is seen as a negative thing but if more Americans were aware of the illicit material being smuggled through the border that led to unintended consequences maybe the general viewpoint would be different. The Preface on this topic mentioned it a little, but I think speaking about the dangers of these at summits and to governmental officials helps but only does so much if the general public doesn’t see it to be a real threat. In the Intro, I wished that the map was explained better. It seemed to be a very broad and general depiction of what was going on. I know from some peers that worked at START @ UMD that there is actually a large amount of drug smuggling from Canada into the U.S.

  4. There are strict contrasts between Keynesian economics and that of Freidrich Hayek. John Maynard Keynes praises a Capitalist system with a enormous lingering government to guide the economic markets. Friedrich Hayek’s work favors a laissez faire small government approach, vying for free market competition in an effort to define the value of products, which he believes a government system can not define do to a lack of competition. Hayek’s approach stems from a belief that the government is limited in knowledge, and that a free market economy will always bounce back regardless of the severity of recession. Keynes pushes the idea that in order to maintain economic stability the government must regulate the practices of the market, and take care of citizens, even if they have to employ them with government jobs. Hayek say’s that the increase of government control in economic life and employment will ultimately lead to a totalitarian society hence the title of his book, “The Road to Serfdom”. Citizens from all over the world have been enticed to either the small government laissez faire approach or the big government socialist approach, mainly being influenced by ongoing events and hardships. While Keynes tries to find a mix, which contains both a large government and a little market freedom, Hayek takes economic liberalism/individualism to an extreme even making a figurative point to say laissez faire is not enough freedom, according to the film “Commanding Heights”. Overall, the economic practices of various nations have been shaped by Keynes and Hayek and their legacies, impact, and scholarly work have so far stood the test of time. This film had a severe impact on how I will now view political trends, whether it’s the rise of a free market candidate like President Trump, or the growing popularity of Socialists like Bernie Sanders, this film helped to explain why people vote the way they do and that current economic health is prevalent in elections. 

    In the video “Commanding Heights 3.7 Averting a Meltdown”, we see how a financial crisis in one nation can affect another. In the video it describes the difficult decision President Clinton had to make, regarding whether the United States should bail out Mexico. The Mexican government needed a bailout to avoid the Mexican, Pesos from crashing. If it would have crashed the United States may of had millions of Mexican citizens attempting to cross the border, which would have created a large humanitarian crisis according to Newt Gingrich’s comments made in the video. This video helps highlight the importance of International relations and how nations can work out agreements, which are beneficial to both parties involved. The big question was, should the United States bail out Mexico, or let Mexico’s currency and potentially its government collapse? This video stood out to me, because President Clinton decided to make a widely unpopular choice to bailout the government to avoid a disastrous situation. It shows that sometimes our nation may have to  help another nation for the greater good, even if it is unpopular and may not work.

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