Nearly everything a state does has distributional consequences, including grand strategy. Societal groups with different stakes in the international economy and defense spending often have conflicting strategic priorities, and these groups pursue their parochial interests by supporting the nomination and election of like-minded politicians. Thus, grand strategy is a product of political economy. An overview of American foreign policy over the last several decades illustrates this logic. In the 1980s, the Democratic and Republican coalitions had conflicting interests over the international economy, so the two parties diverged on grand strategy. The recovery of the Rust Belt in the 1990s and 2000s, however, brought increasing convergence. Political discourse over foreign policy was fiercely partisan, but, with the notable exception of George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, the two parties shared essentially the same view of America’s role in the world. The disastrous outcome in Iraq led the Bush administration back to the middle ground in its second term, and Obama followed the same course. In contrast, the election of Donald Trump augurs change. Trump’s electoral coalition consists of a different balance of interests in the international economy than that of past Republican presidents, so he is likely to pursue different strategic priorities.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Tourism is important in debates on change and development because it is arguably the world’s largest industry, a major driver of economic growth, and a high priority in developing countries’ plans for economic development.
Discourses of responsible tourism claim to address the concerns surrounding mass, packaged tourism: principally, the lack of environmental and cultural authenticity and sustainability. Responsible tourism promises to fulfill tourists’ desires to experience authenticity while having positive economic and social impacts. Proponents of this kind of tourism claim that, by creating a demand for these “goods,” communities can protect and revive pristine environments and authentic cultures.
Authenticity plays an important role in the sustainable development discourse implicit in responsible tourism. However, there are tensions between authenticity, sustainability, and neo-liberal development whose historical trajectories can be traced from the 1970s to the present; from a rejection of market-led economic growth to delivering sustainability through market mechanisms. Critics have noted that the neo-liberalization of every aspect of development has been integral to the political agenda of global governance by institutions such as the World Bank. In short, by integrating sustainable development into neo-liberal mechanisms, alternatives to dominant market-led development are denied.
Tourism plays a major part in these debates because conceptualizations of authenticity have followed a similar path: from imaginations of pre-contact, harmonious idylls; to creation of “value-added” products; to conservation of natural environments; and preservation and revival of traditional cultures for tourist consumption. The turn away from modernization development paradigms and towards cultural revival is politically fraught. Whereas traditional cultures, admired by the West for their environmental sustainability and social cohesion, existed largely outside of global markets, under global neo-liberal regimes, cultural revival is delivered through market forces. Moreover, delivering cultural revival through tourism often de-politicizes highly contentious issues. This is particularly pertinent in Latin America, where the continent has been experiencing a “left turn” in formal politics, including indigenous cosmovisions in new constitutions.
Finally, debates on authenticity, sustainable development and tourism, and especially responsible tourism, are key to understandings of current political approaches to development.
Randall L. Schweller
The balance of power—a notoriously slippery, murky, and protean term, endlessly debated and variously defined—is the core theory of international politics within the realist perspective. A “balance of power” system is one in which the power held and exercised by states within the system is checked and balanced by the power of others. Thus, as a nation’s power grows to the point that it menaces other powerful states, a counter-balancing coalition emerges to restrain the rising power, such that any bid for world hegemony will be self-defeating. The minimum requirements for a balance of power system include the existence of at least two or more actors of roughly equal strength, states seeking to survive and preserve their autonomy, alliance flexibility, and the ability to resort to war if need be.
At its essence, balance of power is a type of international order. Theorists disagree, however, about the normal operation of the balance of power. Structural realists describe an “automatic version” of the theory, whereby system balance is a spontaneously generated, self-regulating, and entirely unintended outcome of states pursuing their narrow self-interests. Earlier versions of balance of power were more consistent with a “semi-automatic” version of the theory, which requires a “balancer” state throwing its weight on one side of the scale or the other, depending on which is lighter, to regulate the system. The British School’s discussion of balance of power depicts a “manually operated” system, wherein the process of equilibrium is a function of human contrivance, with emphasis on the skill of diplomats and statesmen, a sense of community of nations, of shared responsibility, and a desire and need to preserve the balance of power system.
As one would expect of a theory that made its appearance in the mid-16th century, balance of power is not without its critics. Liberals claim that globalization, democratic peace, and international institutions have fundamentally transformed international relations, moving it out of the realm of power politics. Constructivists claim that balance of power theory’s focus on material forces misses the central role played by ideational factors such as norms and identities in the construction of threats and alliances. Realists, themselves, wonder why no global balance of power has materialized since the end of the Cold War.
The idea that states should provide a means-tested guaranteed minimum income for citizens who are unable to meet their basic needs is widely shared and has been a central component in the evolution of social citizenship rights in existing welfare states. However, an increasing number of activists and scholars defend the more radical option of establishing a universal basic income, that is, an unconditional income paid to all members of society on an individual basis without any means test or work requirement. Indeed, some political philosophers have argued that basic income is one of the most important reforms in the development of a just and democratic society, comparable to other milestones in the history of citizenship rights, such as universal suffrage or even the abolishment of slavery. Basic income or similar ideas, such as a basic capital or a negative income tax, have been advanced in many versions since the 18th century in different parts of the world and under a great variety of names. However, while these were previously often isolated and disconnected initiatives, basic income has more recently become the object of an increasingly cumulative research effort to shed light on the many aspects of this idea. It has also inspired policy developments and given rise to experiments and pilot projects in several countries.
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.
Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement or as a substitute to other liberal explanations such as the democratic peace thesis. They, however, disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates; and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. Defining capitalism narrowly through the freedom entrepreneurs enjoy domestically, this article evaluates the key causal mechanisms and empirical evidence that have been advanced in support of these competing claims. The article argues that CPT needs to be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and that it should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should also pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects. First, it could serve as an antidote to the theory of imperialism and other “critical” approaches that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.
The first CBs were private institutions that were given a monopoly over the issuance of currency by government in return for help in financing the budget and adherence to the rules of the gold standard. Under this standard the price of gold in terms of currency was fixed and the CB could issue or retire domestic currency only in line with gold inflows or outflows. Due to the scarcity of gold this system assured price stability as long as it functioned. Wars and depressions led to the replacement of the gold standard by the more flexible gold exchange standard. Along with restrictions on international capital flows this standard became a major pillar of the post–WWII Bretton Woods system. Under this system the U.S. dollar (USD) was pegged to gold, and other countries’ exchange rates were pegged to the USD. In many developing economies CBs functioned as governmental development banks.
Following the world inflation of the 1970s and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, eradication of inflation gradually became the explicit number one priority of CBs. The hyperinflationary experiences of the first half of the 20th century, which were mainly caused by over-utilization of the printing press to finance budgetary expenditures, convinced policymakers in developed economies, following Germany’s lead, that the conduct of monetary policy should be delegated to instrument independent CBs, that governments should be prohibited from borrowing from them, and that the main goal of the CB should be price stability. During the late 1980s and the 1990s numerous CBs obtained instrument independence and started to operate on inflation targeting systems. Under this system the CB is expected to use interest rate policy to deliver a low inflation rate in the long run and to stabilize fluctuations in economic activity in the short and medium terms. In parallel the fixed exchange rates of the Bretton Woods system were replaced by flexible rates or dirty floats. The conjunction of more flexible rates and IT effectively moved the control over exchange rates from governments to CBs.
The global financial crisis reminded policymakers that, of all public institutions, the CB has a comparative advantage in swiftly preventing the crisis from becoming a generalized panic that would seriously cripple the financial system. The crisis precipitated the financial stability motive into the forefront of CBs’ policy concerns and revived the explicit recognition of the lender of last resort function of the CB in the face of shocks to the financial system. Although the financial stability objective appeared in CBs’ charters, along with the price stability objective, also prior to the crisis, the crisis highlighted the critical importance of the supervisory and regulatory functions of CBs and other regulators. An important lesson from the crisis was that micro-prudential supervision and regulation should be supplemented with macro-prudential regulation and that the CB is the choice institution to perform this function. The crisis led CBs of major developed economies to reduce their policy rates to zero (and even to negative values in some cases) and to engage in large-scale asset purchases that bloat their balance sheets to this day. It also induced CBs of small open economies to supplement their interest rate policies with occasional foreign exchange interventions.
The 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and subsequent European Debt Crisis had wide-sweeping consequences for global economic and political stability. Yet while these twin crises have prompted soul searching within the economics profession, international political economy (IPE) has been relatively ineffective in accounting for variation in crisis exposure across the developed world. The GFC and European Debt Crisis present the opportunity to link IPE and comparative political economy (CPE) together in the study of international economic and financial turmoil. While the GFC was prompted by the inter-connectedness of global financial markets, its instigators were largely domestic in nature and were reflective of negative externalities that stemmed from unsustainable national policies, especially those related to financial regulation and household debt accumulation. Many in IPE take an “outward looking in” approach to the examination of international economic developments and domestic politics; analysis rests on how the former impacts the latter. The GFC and European Debt Crisis, however, demonstrate the importance of a (CPE-based) “inward looking out” approach, analyzing how unique policy and political features (and failures) of individual nation states can unleash economic and financial instability at the global level amidst deepened economic and financial integration. IPE not only needs to grant greater attention to variation in domestic politics and policies in a time of closely integrated financial markets, but also should acknowledge the impact of a wider array of actors beyond banks and financial institutions (specifically more domestically rooted actors like households) on cross-national variation in the consumption of foreign credit.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
Timothy Hellwig and Dani M. Marinova
Connections between the economy and vote are commonly invoked to evaluate political accountability in representative democracies. A principal motivation for studying economic voting lies in its value as a gauge of whether democracy works or not. In recent years, however, researchers have cast doubt on the assertion that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of political incumbents.
Criticisms hail from several directions. Some, adopting a cross-national perspective, cite the instability problem as evidence against economic voting’s existence. That is, variance in the economy-vote relationship across different national contexts is sufficiently large so as to undermine claims that the economy registers a systematic effect. Other critics charge that the electorate lacks sufficient knowledge to incorporate economic conditions in their decisions at the polls. Still others remind us not to mistake correlation for causation. They charge that the voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is performing are viewed through a pre-existing partisan lens. All told, these and other reservations cast doubt on the use of economic voting as a means to evaluate accountability and, in turn, democratic performance.
These charges against the fidelity of economic voting require further examination. Rather than join a growing chorus of observers concluding that the economic vote is a chimera, this piece posits that recent critiques should push us to reconceive rather than discredit economic voting. Recent work in psychology and behavioral economics provides a basis for constructive and meaningful reinterpretations of the economy’s influence on voter decisions. These new directions include an emphasis on framing effects—be it on the part of strategic elites or from the media, an emphasis on what voters know about the economy, and a wider consideration of just which “economy” matters to which set of voters. While many in number, each of these new directions advance understanding by embodying deeper conceptions of voters and elected officials.
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.
Hyo Joon Chang and Scott L. Kastner
Recent studies on commercial liberalism have paid more attention to microfoundations linking economic interdependence to peace. Using a bargaining model of war, these studies have specified and tested different causal mechanisms through which economic ties function as a constraint, a source of information, or a transformative agent. Recent scholarly efforts in theoretical development and some empirical testing of different causal processes suggest the need to consider scope conditions to see when an opportunity cost or a signaling mechanism is likely to be salient. Future research can be best benefited by focusing on how economic interdependence affects commitment problems and empirically assessing the relative explanatory power of different causal arguments.
Stephanie J. Rickard
Policies as diverse as tariffs, exchange rates, and unemployment insurance vary across democratic countries. In an attempt to explain this cross-national variation, scholars have turned to the institutions that govern countries’ elections. The institutions that regulate elections, also known as an electoral system, vary significantly across democracies. Can these varied electoral institutions explain the diversity of policies observed? This question remains unanswered. Despite a growing body of research, little consensus exists as to precisely how electoral institutions affect policy. Why is it so difficult to untangle the effects of electoral institutions on economic policy? One reason for the confusion may be the imprecise manner in which electoral institutions are often measured. Better measures of electoral systems may improve our understanding of their policy effects. Improved theories that clarify the causal mechanism(s) linking electoral systems to policy outcomes will also help to clarify the relationship between electoral systems and policies. To better understand the policy effects of electoral institutions, both theoretical and empirical work must take seriously contextual factors, such as geography, which likely mediate the effects of electoral institutions. Finally, different types of empirical evidence are needed to shed new light on the policy effects of electoral institutions. It is difficult to identify the effects of electoral systems in cross-national studies because of the many other factors that vary across countries. Examining within-country variations, such as changes in district magnitude, may provide useful new insights regarding the effects of electoral institutions on policy.
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.
“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.
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.
Lasse 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.