Political economy

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Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government. Political economy originated in moral philosophy. It developed in the 18th century as the study of the economies of states — polities, hence political economy.

In late nineteenth century, the term "political economy" was generally replaced by the term economics, used by those seeking to place the study of economy upon mathematical and axiomatic bases, rather than the structural relationships of production and consumption (cf. marginalism, Alfred Marshall).


[edit] History of the term

Originally, political economy meant the study of the conditions under which production or consumption within limited parameters was organized in the nation-states. The phrase économie politique (translated in English as political economy) first appeared in France in 1615 with the well known book by Antoine de Montchrétien: Traité de l’economie politique. French physiocrats, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Karl Marx were some of the exponents of political economy. In 1805, Thomas Malthus became England's first professor of political economy, at the East India Company College, Haileybury, Hertfordshire. The world's first professorship in political economy was established in 1763 at the University of Vienna, Austria; Joseph von Sonnenfels was the first tenured professor.

In the United States, political economy first was taught at the College of William and Mary; in 1784 Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations was a required textbook.[1]

Glasgow University, where Smith was Professor of Logic and Moral Philosophy, changed the name of its Department of Political Economy to the Department of Economics (ostensibly to avoid confusing prospective undergraduates) in academic year 1797–1798, leaving the graduating class of 1798 as the last to be graduated with a Scottish Master of Arts degree in Political Economy.

[edit] Current approaches to political economy

Contemporarily, political economy refers to different, but related, approaches to studying economic and political behaviours, ranging from the combining of economics with other fields, to the using of different, fundamental assumptions that challenge orthodox economic assumptions:

  • Historians have employed political economy to explore the ways in the past that persons and groups with common economic interests have used politics to effect changes beneficial to their interests. [4]
  • Economists and political scientists often associate the term with approaches using rational choice assumptions, especially game theory, in explaining phenomena beyond economics' standard remit, in which context the term "positive political economy" is common.[6]
  • Contemporary political economy students treat economic ideologies as the phenomenon to explain, per the traditions of Marxian political economy. Thus, Charles S. Maier suggests that a political economy approach: interrogates economic doctrines to disclose their sociological and political premises....in sum, [it] regards economic ideas and behavior not as frameworks for analysis, but as beliefs and actions that must themselves be explained. [7] This approach informs Andrew Gamble's The Free Economy and the Strong State (Palgrave Macmillan, 1988), and Colin Hay's The Political Economy of New Labour (Manchester University Press, 1999). It also informs much work published in New Political Economy an international journal founded by Sheffield University scholars in 1996.[8]

[edit] Disciplines related to political economy

Because political economy is not a unified discipline, there are studies using the term that overlap in subject matter, but have radically different perspectives:

  • Sociology studies the effects of persons' involvement in society as members of groups, and how that changes their ability to function. Many sociologists start from a perspective of production-determining relation from Karl Marx.
  • Political Science focuses on the interaction between institutions and human behavior, the way in which the former shapes choices and how the latter change institutional frameworks. Along with economics, it has made the best works in the field by authors like Shepsle, Ostrom, Ordeshook, among others.
  • Anthropology studies political economy by studying the relationship between the world capitalist system and local cultures.
  • Psychology is the fulcrum on which political economy exerts its force in studying decision-making (not only in prices), but as the field of study whose assumptions model political economy.
  • History documents change, using it to argue political economy; historical works have political economy as the narrative's frame.
  • Economics focuses on markets by leaving the political - governments, states, legal frameworks - as givens. Economics dropped the adjective political in the 19th century, but works backwards, by describing "The Ideal Market", urging governments to formulate policy and law to approach said ideal. Economists and political economists often disagree on what is preeminent in developing production, market, and political structure theories.
  • Law concerns the creation of policy and its mediation via political actions that have specific results, it deals with political economy as political capital and as social infrastructure - and the sociological results of one society upon another.
  • Human Geography is concerned with politico-economic processes, emphasizing space and environment.
  • Ecology deals with political economy, because human activity has the greatest effect upon the environment, its central concern being the environment's suitability for human activity. The ecological effects of economic activity spur research upon changing market economy incentives.
  • International Relations often uses political economy to study political and economic development.
  • Cultural Studies studies social class, production, labor, race, gender, and sex.
  • Communications examines the institutional aspects of media and telecommuncation systems, with particular attention to the historical relationships between owners, labor, consumers, advertisers, and the state.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Image of "Priorities of the College of William and Mary"
  2. ^ Groenwegen (1987, p.906).
  3. ^ Anne O. Krueger, "The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society," American Economic Review, 64(3), June 1974, pp.291-303
  4. ^ McCoy, Drew R. "The Elusive Republic: Politcal Ecocomy in Jeffersonian America", Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, 1980.
  5. ^ Cohen, Benjamin J. (2007), ‘The transatlantic divide: Why are American and British IPE so different?’, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 14, No. 2, May 2007
  6. ^ Alt, James E. and Kenneth Shepsle (eds.) (1990), Perspectives on Positive Political Economy (Cambridge [UK]; New York: Cambridge University Press).
  7. ^ Charles S. Mayer "In search of Stability: Explorations in Historical Political Economy", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, pp.3-6.
  8. ^ cf: David Baker, "The political economy of fascism: Myth or reality, or myth and reality?" New Political Economy, Volume 11, Issue 2 June 2006, pp.227–250.
  • Groenwegen, Peter (1987). "'political economy' and 'economics'," The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 3, pp. 904-07.
  • Winch, Donald, Riches and poverty : an intellectual history of political economy in Britain, 1750-1834 Cambridge [etc.] : Cambridge U.P., 1996.
  • Winch, Donald, "The emergence of Economics as a Science 1750-1870". In: The Fontana Economic History of Europe, Vol. 3. London: Collins/Fontana, 1973.

[edit] See also

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