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date: 01 December 2020

Regime Type and Foreign Direct Investment: A Transaction Cost Economics Approach to the Debatelocked

  • Austin P. JohnsonAustin P. JohnsonDepartment of Political Science, Texas A&M University
  •  and Quan LiQuan LiDepartment of Political Science, Texas A&M University

Summary

A debate exists in international political economy on the relationship between regime type and foreign direct investment (FDI). The central point of contention focuses on whether multinational firms generally prefer to pursue business ventures in more democratic or autocratic countries. A considerable amount of theory has been developed on this topic; however, the arguments in previous studies lack consistency, and researchers have produced mixed empirical findings. A fundamental weakness in this literature is that while FDI has largely been treated conceptually as a homogeneous aggregate, in reality, it features divergent characteristics on multiple dimensions. Three possible dimensions that FDI can be decomposed on are: greenfield vs. brownfield, ownership type (wholly owned vs. joint venture), and horizontal vs. vertical. The most relevant dimensions to the problem at hand are: greenfield vs. brownfield, and horizontal vs. vertical. Five propositions, based on the notion of asset specificity, other investment attributes, and host nation domestic factors, are derived to predict how regime type might affect four types of FDI: vertical-greenfield; vertical-brownfield; horizontal-greenfield; and horizontal-brownfield. Depending on the type of FDI, multinational corporations may have no regime preference, an autocratic preference, or a democratic preference. This research contributes to empirical international relations theory by providing a useful example on how to resolve a scholarly debate, theoretically, and by laying out testable propositions for future empirical research.

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