Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is one of the most important policy areas of the European Union (EU). Academic research on EMU in political science is well-established and ever-evolving, like EMU itself. There are three main “waves” of research on EMU, which have mostly proceeded in a chronological order. The first wave of scholarly work has focused on the “road” to EMU, from the setting up of the European Monetary System in 1979 to the third and final stage of EMU in 1999. This literature has explained why and how EMU was set up and took the “asymmetric” shape it did, that is to say, a full “monetary union,” whereby monetary policy was conducted by a single monetary authority, the European Central Bank (ECB), but “economic union” was not fully fledged. The second wave of research has discussed the functioning of EMU in the 2000s, its effects and defects. EMU brought about significant changes in the member states of the euro area, even though these effects varied across macroeconomic policies and across countries. The third wave of research on EMU has concerned the establishment of Banking Union from 2012 onward. This literature has explained why and how Banking Union was set up and took the “asymmetric” shape it did, whereby banking supervision was transferred to the ECB, but banking resolution partly remained at the national level, while other components of Banking Union, namely a common deposit guarantee scheme and a common fiscal backstop, were not set up. Subsequently, the research has begun to explore the functioning of Banking Union and its effects on the participating member states.
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.
Mary Stegmaier, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, and Lincoln Brown
In democracies, we elect our political leaders by choosing among a rival set of candidates or parties. What makes us pick one over all the others? Do we carefully weigh the platforms of all the candidates and then select the one closest to our personal desires? Or, do we select the candidate our friends and neighbors recommend? Perhaps, even, to save time, do we just vote for the same party we did last time? All of these are choice strategies, and there are many more. Here we focus on a well-known explanation of how voters decide, commonly called the Michigan Model, so named for the university where it was developed, in a path-breaking scholarly volume—The American Voter. The authors systematically gathered data, via scientific survey research, on individual voters in American presidential elections, measuring different traits, perceptions, and attitudes that they hypothesized might influence vote choice.
They arranged these different factors, or variables, into long-term forces and short-term forces that acted on the voter, and could be arrayed as if they were spread along a funnel of causality: from more remote, fixed variables, such as social class or party identification, to more proximate, fluid variables, such as issue preferences and candidate attributes. All these variables generally mattered, but those that concern us here deal with issues, in particular economic issues. How do voter evaluations of the economy help the voter decide what party to favor? Is it the national economy or the pocketbook that counts? How important are economic issues compared to other issues? What conditions make economic considerations more (or less) impactful? Does economic voting operate differently in different countries? These and other questions are addressed herein, with special attention to three leading democracies where economic voting has been heavily studied—the United States, Britain, and Germany. As demonstrated, economic considerations are pervasive and powerful elements in the democratic voter’s calculus.
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.
Despite theoretical assumptions about the potential for financial liberalization in Latin America to foster economic growth, empirical developments revealed a different story. With financial liberalization came greater macroeconomic instability, exposing countries to financial crises even when domestic economic fundamentals were mostly in order. At the policy front, capital account liberalization posed crucial challenges to macroeconomic governance. Indeed, international political economy literature on financial globalization has highlighted that developing countries’ governments who chose to implement policies that contradicted financial markets’ expectations could be “disciplined” or “punished” by the threat of capital outflows. Yet, capital flows to emerging economies are not determined solely by domestic (push) factors. Even in the most extreme case of noncompliance with investors’ (creditors’) preferences—i.e., sovereign default—evidence shows that market re-access and the cost of new debt are a function of credit cycles rather than solely determined by investors’ decisions to “punish” defaulters. In addition, to the extent that the “market” can indeed be considered as a single analytical category, industry-specific incentives shape portfolio investors’ bets. Caveats also apply to how market reforms differed in nature and degree, even in Latin American countries subjected to similar external pressures. The same is true for policy responses to the 2008 financial crisis. These dynamics add necessary nuance to broad depictions of financial liberalization as a deterministic process unequivocally constraining domestic policy autonomy in predictable ways.
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.
R. Douglas Hecock
The open economic policies Latin American countries adopted in the wake of the debt crisis of the early 1980s were expected to bring a variety of benefits. Trade liberalization and privatization make domestic firms more competitive, and deregulation helps to create an efficient business climate. Notably, such policies are also likely to spur foreign investment seeking new opportunities, and Latin American countries did indeed begin to see large inflows in the 1990s. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is thought to be particularly complementary to economic development. Compared to portfolio investment in stocks and bonds, FDI consists of the construction or purchasing of physical assets including manufacturing facilities, retail outlets, hotels, and mines. FDI should spur local economic activity and bring with it jobs and technology transfers. Furthermore, because divestment takes planning and time, direct investment is relatively long-term, so investors are expected to display greater commitments to the economic and political futures of their hosts.
As a result of these substantial potential benefits, a body of scholarship has emerged to try to understand the political dynamics of FDI. Is investment more likely to flow to democratic or authoritarian regimes? Are direct investors seeking countries with few labor protections and weak environmental regulations or are they attracted to public investments in human capital? Do they eschew governments with poor human rights records or do they see abusers as potential partners in managing a compliant workforce? What are the effects of FDI flows on the political contexts of their hosts? Among others, these questions have received significant scholarly attention, and while we have learned a great deal about the behavior and effects of FDI, considerable potential remains. Having received massive inflows averaging more than $100 billion between 2000 and 2017 and consisting of countries with broadly similar development trajectories, Latin America offers a rich landscape for such analysis. In particular, finer-grained examinations of FDI to Latin American countries can help us understand how it might affect political systems and which types of investment best complement national development projects. In so doing, studies of FDI flows to Latin America are poised to make major contributions to the fields of international political economy, development studies, and comparative politics.
Anna M. Meyerrose, Thomas Edward Flores, and Irfan Nooruddin
The end of the Cold War, heralded as the ideological triumph of (Western) liberal democracy, was accompanied by an electoral boom and historically high levels of economic development. More recently, however, democratic progress has stalled, populism has been on the rise, and a number of democracies around the world are either backsliding or failing entirely. What explains this contemporary crisis of democracy despite conditions theorized to promote democratic success?
Research on democratization and democracy promotion tends to focus predominantly on elections. Although necessary for democracy, free and fair elections are more effective at promoting democratic progress when they are held in states with strong institutions, such as those that can guarantee the rule of law and constraints on executive power. However, increased globalization and international economic integration have stunted the development of these institutions by limiting states’ economic policy options, and, as a result, their fiscal policy space. When a state’s fiscal policy space—or, its ability to collect and spend revenue—is limited, governments are less able to provide public goods to citizens, politicians rely on populist rather than ideological appeals to win votes, and elections lose their democratizing potential.
Additional research from a political–economic framework that incorporates insights from studies on state building and institutions with recent approaches to democratization and democracy promotion, which focus predominantly on elections, is needed. Such a framework provides avenues for additional research on the institutional aspects of ongoing democratization and democratic backsliding.
Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.
Benjamin Helms and David Leblang
International migration is a multifaceted process with distinct stages and decision points. An initial decision to leave one’s country of birth may be made by the individual or the family unit, and this decision may reflect a desire to reconnect with friends and family who have already moved abroad, a need to diversify the family’s access to financial capital, a demand to increase wages, or a belief that conditions abroad will provide social and/or political benefits not available in the homeland. Once the individual has decided to move abroad, the next decision is the choice of destination. Standard explanations of destination choice have focused on the physical costs associated with moving—moving shorter distances is often less expensive than moving to a destination farther away; these explanations have recently been modified to include other social, political, familial, and cultural dimensions as part of the transaction cost associated with migrating. Arrival in a host country does not mean that an émigré’s relationship with their homeland is over. Migrant networks are an engine of global economic integration—expatriates help expand trade and investment flows, they transmit skills and knowledge back to their homelands, and they remit financial and human capital. Aware of the value of their external populations, home countries have developed a range of policies that enable them to “harness” their diasporas.
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.
Economic development involves increasing agricultural productivity, building technological capabilities among domestic firms, export diversification, and industrialization. In the 21st century of fragmented production processes dispersed globally, it also entails positioning domestic firms in global production networks in order to create wealth and employment as well as increasing production for a growing domestic market. Despite two decades of high levels of growth between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s, very few African countries have created manufacturing industries that are internationally competitive and have diversified their exports away from dependence on a few primary commodities, and most African countries still import the majority of their manufactured goods. Economic transformation does not emerge from the interplay of free market forces but rather requires proactive, targeted government policies. Such industrial policies include providing infrastructure, access to credit, and training labor but also incentivizing and assisting locally owned firms to build their technological capabilities in order to become internationally competitive. Well-conceived industrial policies are only successful if they are implemented, and that is much more difficult.
African governments have been relatively less successful with implementing industrial policies, in the past and the present. They pursued ambitious industrial policies in the immediate post-independence period in the form of import-substitution industrialization strategies. At that time, industrial policies relied on the creation of state-owned enterprises, as in other regions of the world, but unlike in other developing countries, these strategies did not support private firms as well. This trend is explained by the political settlements in the newly independent African countries, which were generally characterized by a small domestic capitalist class with low capabilities. The experience accumulated during the import-substitution period was undermined by rapid trade liberalization and privatization in the 1980s and 1990s. Liberalization and privatization opened up new economic opportunities and shifted the locus of capital accumulation from the state sector to the private sector, while democratization and elections created pressure on political leaders to find more political financing with which to maintain their ruling coalitions and to find it through avenues outside of the state, including starting their own businesses.
Ruling elites’ strategies for political survival inevitably became intertwined with government strategies to promote economic development. Whether or not contemporary African governments pursue industrial policies and are able to implement them depends on how ruling coalitions are formed within the distribution of power in a particular society. No set of ruling elites is ever completely autonomous. What matters is how coalitional pressures shape the political costs of certain policies and the ability to implement them, given the resistance or support from powerful groups within and outside the ruling coalition. This is because industrial policies require decisions about resource allocation and institutional changes that usually are contested by some group in society and because they entail creating, allocating, and managing economic rents.
Information is of great value to politicians, who make decisions with uncertain consequences and want to convince the public and their political counterparts of the validity of their proposals. Because of conflicting interests and ideal views, information is not easily shared among political agents. However, information aggregation is collectively valuable, because it leads to better decision-making and facilitates defusing conflicts. Formal theorists investigate some of the institutions used to aggregate information among political agents.
There are several studies on committee decision-making. They establish that rational voters do not make voting choices using only their individual information. This complicates information aggregation, especially when high quorum voting rules are adopted. However, deliberation may restore efficient information aggregation. In the case of homogeneous committees, strategic incentives for information acquisition are optimized by a decision mechanism based on random sequential individual consultations.
The fundamental characteristic of committees is that all decisions are made jointly. An early 21st-century surge of formal studies on information aggregation considers the “opposite case” of information exchange among political entities that make decisions independently of each other. These articles deliver insights on topics as diverse as the optimal organization of meetings, the benefit of cabinet governments, the shape of political and social networks, and the value of engagement of societal groups. The breadth of these results is a testimony to the success and promise of this methodology.
Of great importance for international conflict avoidance is building and maintaining trust among states and non-state entities. Formal analysis of international conflict management institutions such as standard diplomatic communications, peace summits, and third-party intermediation clarifies that, while none of these institutions fully prevent war, they are all useful to aggregate information, build trust, and facilitate peaceful agreements. Even communication through standard diplomatic channels and public announcements may significantly reduce the risk that disputes evolve into conflicts. Third-party intermediation is more effective, even if mediators are not endowed with the power to enforce their settlement proposals.
Interest representation plays a systemic role in European Union (EU) policymaking and integration, recognized as such in the Treaty on European Union. Interest organizations supply technical and political information to the EU institutions, and EU institutions use interest organizations as agents of political communication. Interest organizations act as a proxy for an otherwise largely absent civil society, with a teeming population of groups advocating for every imaginable cause. Where groups are absent, so EU institutions have stimulated their formation. The result is a pluralist system of checks and balances, although the literature includes findings of “islands” resembling corporatist practice.
EU institutions have designed a range of procedures in support of “an open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups,” now largely packaged as a “Better Regulation” program. Measures include funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), consultation procedures accompanied by impact assessments, a Transparency Register to provide lobbying transparency, and measures for access to documents that enable civil society organizations to keep EU institutions accountable. A multilevel governance system further strengthens pluralist design, making it impossible for any one type of interest to routinely capture the diversity of EU decision-making. A key controversy in the literature is how to assess influence and whether lobbying success varies across interest group type. EU public policymaking is regulatory, making for competitive interest group politics, often between different branches of business whose interests are affected differently by regulatory proposals. There are striking findings from the literature, including that NGOs are more successful than business organizations in getting what they want from EU public policymaking, particularly where issues reach the status of high salience where they attract the attention of the European Parliament. A key innovation of the Lisbon Treaty involves a European Citizens’ Initiative, which takes dialogue between civil society and EU institutions outside the ecosystem inhabited by civil society organizations and EU institutions known as the “Brussels bubble” and into the member states.
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.
Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.
“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.
Recent discoveries of oil in some African countries have rekindled a debate about its place in development and international politics. The debate has pitched those viewing oil as a catalyst for development and a more assertive Africa in global politics against others who point to the negative impact of oil on older established African oil-producing states. Oil as a highly priced geopolitical and strategic commodity will for the foreseeable future shape relations between African petro-states and other global actors, particularly international oil companies and energy-dependent established and emerging global powers. The structural position of specific African petro-states in the global political economy and history, and the nature of their leadership, are defining factors in the diverse aspects of local and international politics, including the prospects for development and a more assertive Africa in international politics.
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.