Global Political Economy
James A. Caporaso
Global political economy is not unified by a shared theoretical approach or encompassing methodology. Rather, it is a collection of orientations, perspectives, theories, and methods addressed to understanding the relations between diverse political and economic phenomena at the global level. The world does not look the same from a bank office in Zurich, a maquiladora (border factory) in Mexico, a shantytown in Peru, a rice paddy in Sri Lanka, and a trade office in Washington, D.C. Academics are not above the fray. Neorealists, institutionalists, structuralists, Marxists, deconstructionists, and modern-day mercantilists frame the world differently too.
Without belaboring the obvious, let me briefly describe some of the key axes of disagreement: the actors; the dominant metaphor; and the constitutive principle relating politics and economics. Different theories presuppose the importance of different actors, or even whether actors in the ordinary sense are important at all ( Galtung 1971). Thus, individuals, firms, interest groups, epistemic communities, technocrats, bureaucrats, states, and international organizations are variously posited as the central actors. Neoclassical political economy favors individuals and firms; Marxian political economy favors classes and production relations; dependency theory focuses on transnational alliances of capital (financial and industrial); and realist theory places states at the center.
Each approach is defined by a dominant metaphor and associated theoretical principles. Three such metaphors are the market, the polity, and class processes. Neoclassical economics places the market and voluntary exchange at the center. The portals to politics are guarded by the idea of market failure. Realism and neorealism expand on the role of the state and related ideas of power and domination. The connections with economics are controlled by state officials who set parameters to voluntary exchange and who seek to use wealth to enhance relative power. Politics structures the realm of economics. Class processes are the domain of Marxian political economy. The production, realization, and appropriation of value are thematized. Politics appears either directly in production relations, in the power exercised by owners of capital and bosses ( Marglin 1974), or in the ways in which the state advances the systemic interests of capital, i.e., those interests which capitalists cannot advance individually. Crossing the divides that separate these approaches is not an easy task.
Finally, there are different constitutive principles of global political economy, different ways of framing or organizing the connections between politics and economic forces. While they do not correspond in a precise way with theories of international political economy, the differences among them are important. One constitutive principle takes economics as the primary subject matter and looks at associated political activities. What is economic is trade, technology, debt, and what is political are the activities of bargaining, power, and collective problem solving in each arena, in short, the "politics of trade" (investment, debt, etc.) approach. This approach emphasizes the management of international economic problems.
A second constitutive principle conceives economics and politics as analytically coequal subsystems and theorizes about their interactions. Economics is variously conceived as markets, production, and wealth; politics as states, institutions, and power. Global political economy now involves theorizing about the relations between markets and states or power and wealth at the global level.
The third constitutive principle is that of reduction of politics or economics to the other. I do not use the term reduction the way Waltz does ( 1959, 1979), as the explanation of facts at one level by reference to the facts and relations situated at a different (lower) level. By reduction I refer to the subsumption or assimilation of facts of a political (or economic) nature by concepts of an economic (or political) nature. Reduction here is a conceptual but not a theoretical enterprise. It involves reclassifying and reinterpreting phenomena previously seen as autonomous. The public choice component of