Rethinking Global Political Economy: Emerging Issues, Unfolding Odysseys

By Mary Ann Tétreault; Robert A. Denemark et al. | Go to book overview

9

Exploitation and solidarity

Putting the political back into IPE

Alejandro Colás

Introduction

One striking feature of contemporary international political economy (IPE) is the virtual absence of any sustained discussion of problems and concepts associated with moral theory or political philosophy. For all the rich and varied contributions of IPE to the study of global capitalism and political structures such as the state or international organizations it gives rise to, there are arguably few, if any, studies that self-consciously cross the boundaries between IPE and international political theory. A random overview of the key textbooks in IPE reveals little or no direct engagement with notions such as distributive justice, exploitation, fairness, obligations, or rights. 1 For their part, political philosophers who have engaged with the moral issues thrown up by the workings of global capitalism, are generally loath to develop analyses of the dynamics of this system. 2 Sophisticated and challenging as some of the "new normative theories" in International Relations have been, they rarely seek to explain the very phenomena - global economic inequality, disparities in state power, global social hierarchies - they aim to condemn. 3

This mutual neglect between IPE and political philosophy is doubly perplexing. First, because it is surely incontrovertible that global capitalism - or if one wishes, the world economy - generates a range of socio-economic and political problems that require both explanation and evaluation. Short of advocating a hard-nosed positivism, few scholars would claim that one can disengage the analysis of global capitalism from a normative assessment - both diagnostic and prescriptive - of its social and political impact on our daily lives. 4 Second, and more important, the normative silences of IPE are disconcerting in that the language and concerns of political philosophy have from the very outset been prominent in the study of political economy. From its origins in the eighteenth century through to the contemporary debates on the "social" or "moral" economy, the study of political economy has been associated with some of the central problems of political philosophy. Be it the Scottish Enlightenment's emphasis upon "virtue," Marx's concern with "alienation," or more recent discussions regarding "entitlements," political economy has found it difficult to escape its status as a "moral science." 5 As one recent textbook on political economy has usefully noted, "[a] main difficulty

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