I’m at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association meeting in Toronto this week. Last night, I attended the annual bloggers’ reception, where several outstanding blogs were recognized. The awards, organized by Duck of Minerva, are quickly becoming a key event at the ISA’s meeting.
Political Violence @ a Glance was recognized as the best group blog, with The Monkey Cage recognized as runner up. Dart Throwing Chimp was the best individual blog. Nuclear Diner was the best new blog. And Daniel Drezner was awarded a special achievement award for his work in contributing to the developing of blogging in international relations.
All of the awards were well-earned, and I encourage you to check them all out. But I was also struck by the relative lack of attention paid to the international political economy side of the discipline. Historically, IR has been divided into two main subfields: international relations, which tends to focus on security issues, and international political economy, which tends to focus on global economics. A massive conference like the ISA draws IR scholars and practitioners from both sides of the discipline. But it’s striking how little connection there often is between the two groups.
This is unfortunate. Just as the most interesting and important questions are unlikely to be successfully addressed by a single disciplinary field, so too the biggest questions in IR would likely benefit from the insights provided by both subfields. Climate change, for example, is both a security and an economic question. So why are we so bad at working beyond the (sub)discipline?
Baseline Scenario has a great discussion of the relationship between government spending, inequality, and economic growth. At issue is a central debate in political economy; namely, does increasing government spending lead to slower rates of economic growth? This seems to be a popular question these days, with both Paul Krugman and Clive Cook chiming in on the topic.
This is hardly a new debate. Adam Smith and Karl Marx both raised similar questions more than 100 years ago. Today, the debate is usually framed as the U.S. vs. the European model, with each side pointing out the flaws in the other. Yes, Europe has slower rates of economic growth than the United States. Yes, the United States has lower rates of taxation (at least over the past twenty years) than Europe. Yes, social services are generally better in Europe. Yes, the United States has better health care system, if you can afford it. The argument goes on and on.
What both sides of the debate seem to be missing is the cultural element. The proposition that smaller government leads to higher rates of economic growth and prosperity—a point, at best, impossible to prove in the real world due to differences in factor allocations, political histories, and other facts which don’t often fit neatly into our theoretical models—has come to be accepted as common sense. But even conceding the point that smaller government lead to higher rates of economic growth doesn’t tell us what the ideal size of government should be. That question, it seems to me, is largely the outcome of specific national political cultures [glossary] which conceive of differing roles for the state. Higher taxes may indeed mean slower rates of economic growth. But they also may mean the provision of better services by the state. The expectation that the state provide at least some fundamental services to its citizens—ranging from national defense and policing to providing a minimum level of social safety to more expansive services like health care and education—is largely a function of political socialization [glossary] and political culture. And political cultures often prove incredibly resilient. Americans are unlikely to wake up tomorrow and demand a host of new services from the state (The Democrats are learning this the hard way as they try to reform the U.S. health care system). Similarly, most Europeans are unlikely to embrace the night watchman state [glossary] that seems to inform American political culture. Any debate that misses this is likely to have little effect in the real world.
Posted in Almond Comparative Politics Today 9/e, Almond Comparative Politics Today: ATF 5/e, Art/Jervis International Politics 9/e, Danziger Understanding the Political World 9/e, Draper The Good Society, Goldstein International Relations 8/e, Goldstein International Relations Brief 4/e, Nye Understanding International Conflicts 7/e, Roskin Countries and Concepts 10/e, Roskin IR 7/e, Viotti International Relations and World Politics 4/e
Tagged economic growth, government spending, political culture, political economy