The decisions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel have emerged as a key individual-level driver of outcomes in the eurozone financial crisis.
The financial crisis unfolding in Europe provides a stark illustration of the complex interactions between system-level, state-level, and individual-level variables in contemporary world politics. Political scientists employ these three (and sometimes more) levels of analysis
as an analytical device to categorize the causal “drivers” that produce outcomes in international relations. This framework might shed light on the current Eurozone crisis as follows:
(1) The system level of analysis includes attributes of the international system and supranational actors. The power imbalance between the wealthier and more financially secure European states, such as Germany, and those needing bailouts, such as Portugal and Greece, can be viewed as a system-level factor placing pressure on weaker states to abide by the stronger countries’ demands. The same could be said of the “top-down” pressure from International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) such as the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on countries such as Greece and Ireland to enact austerity measures in exchange for bailouts.
(2) The state or domestic level of analysis includes factors such as political institutions, interest groups, public opinion, and political parties. The ease with which governments can fall in parliamentary systems (as opposed to presidential systems) helps to explain the events of the past week in Greece and Italy. The anti-austerity attitudes of public opinion and labor unions have led to political instability and a reluctance by some policymakers to agree to the harsh terms imposed by external actors.
(3) The individual level of analysis focuses on the choices, perceptions, and personalities of individuals (normally political leaders and other influential individuals). The critical decisions by former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to (a) call for a referendum on the bailout plan, and then (b) to withdraw this request and hand over power to an interim government are causal drivers located at the individual level of analysis. The perceptions and choices by other key players such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Central Bank Chairman Mario Draghi are also important individual-level factors that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the course of this crisis.
What do you think? Do causal drivers at one level of analysis seem to be particularly influential in the current European financial crisis? How are variables from different levels interacting to shape outcomes? Is it possible to model these interactions and predict how all of this will end, or is such a feat beyond the skills of even our best political scientists?
Every now and then, an event comes along which exemplifies perfectly a concept in international politics. Last week the city of Lucca, Italy, enacted a ban on non-Italian restaurants operating in the city center. According to a widely circulated report, the new ban was intended to “protect” local specialties from the rising popularity of “different” (read: foreign) cuisines. The measure also bans fast food restaurants and hopes to reduce littering within the city’s ancient walls, a magnet for tourists. According to city spokesperson Massimo Di Grazia, “By ethnic cuisine we mean a different cuisine…That means no new kebabs, Thai or Lebanese restaurants.” It certainly means no McDonald’s or Pizza Huts as well.
A chorus of critics immediately raised concerns of “culinary racism.” And the city did itself no favors when Di Grazia attempted to clarify the ban, stating that while it was unclear how “different” a restaurant would have to be to fall under the terms of the ban, a hypothetical French restaurant would be allowed to open but restaurants using “Middle Eastern ingredients” probably would not.
As a phenomenon, globalization is nothing new. Marco Polo’s journey to China was but an early step in the process of increasing economic and cultural interconnections between countries and regions. Ironically, Italian cuisine itself is the product of globalization. Prior to the Columbian exchange in the early 1500s, there were no tomatoes in Italy. It may be hard to imagine Italian food without tomato sauce, but prior to the 16th century, tomatoes were not part of the Italian diet.
Nevertheless, the increasing intensity of globalization today often sparks sharp responses. Recall the purchase of American brewer Anheuser-Busch by the Belgian brewer In-Bev, which led to proposals to boycott Budweiser and “drink American.” Political scientist Benjamin Barber analyzed the effects of globalization and cultural resistance in his seminal article “Jihad vs. McWorld,” which has increasingly become a must-read article for those interested in the topic. Barber noted that responses to globalization often involve a strong affirmation of local identity-based politics, sometimes leading to increasing tensions. In this sense, Lucca’s ban on foreign foods represents just another attempt to stem the tide of globalization.
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Tagged Benjamin Barber, culinary racism, culture, globalization, Italy, Lucca