Friday, June 12, 2009


. Friday, June 12, 2009

Is IPE moribund? Has the so-called "open economy politics" (OEP) approach to IPE, developed over the last 15-20 years in tandem with the quantification of empirical research, killed IPE? So asks the most recent edition of the Review of International Political Economy. Most contributors think that OEP's dominance has transformed IPE into a narrow and not particularly interesting field. Are they right?

I think its clear that all is not well in the land of IPE. In fact, I am not certain that IPE exists as a substantive field of study, having been supplanted by Comparative PE. CPE has replaced IPE largely because a sample of 100 countries over thirty years is more amenable to statistical analysis than decision-making processes within international economic organizations. Sadly, in my estimation, a research program that thus began because some of us believed that understanding what governments do in the international system required bringing domestic politics into models of IPE has evolved into a research program that largely ignores international politics. Even sadder, in my estimation, is that what began as an effort to employ statistics to develop better answers to the questions we posed has evolved into a research program in which too often the questions we attempt to answer are those most amenable to statistical techniques.

I do not mean to denigrate that process which, nor the people who brought us here. In fact, I applaud the methodization of IPE as well as the development of OEP. And I applaud and respect those scholars who had the vision to start us down that path. And I pretty much agree with Lake (page 54) when he says that OEP "has proven to be a remarkably progressive approach, in the Lakatosian sense (Lakatos, 1978), that integrates diverse economic transactions under a common theoretical umbrella outlined above. Within the approach, there has been a real cumulation of knowledge."

What I lament is what Lake fails to mention: OEP must eventually reach the point of diminishing returns.
Arguably, OEP has reached this point. What will we learn from another study of trade policy preferences or "globalization's" impact on [insert your favorite domestic dependent variable]? Thus, the fact that OEP has been progressive does not mean it will continue to be progressive. OEP's fate depends on how it responds to this challenge of diminishing returns. I am not particularly optimistic, because adaptation will require OEP to violate the social science values it holds dearest.


Andy P said...

Thanks for articulating these thought. I don't have a good response but I still think it is helpful to me to reflect on the state of the discipline a bit.

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