Toward an Economic Theory of Imperialism?

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“Our role is to widen the field of discussion, not to set limits in accord with the prevailing authority.” Edward Said, Orientalism (1978)

This blog post aims to introduce Patnaik’s theory of imperialism – as developed in The Value of Money (2009) – and its relation to economic theory. According to Patnaik a cogent economic theory that seeks to understand the laws of capitalism necessarily stems from a coherent theory of money due to the central place money plays in a capitalist mode of production. Hence, the purpose of his scientific endeavor is to examine the underlying social arrangement behind the determination of the value of money. Consequently, the conceptual framework Patnaik establishes starts with the following question: what does determine the value of money?

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Rethinking the Law and Economics Paradigm

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As a step toward that ideal it seems to me that every lawyer ought to seek an understanding of economics. The present divorce between the schools of political economy and law seems to me an evidence of how much progress in philosophical study still remains to be made. In the present state of political economy indeed, we come again upon history on a larger scale, but there we are called on to consider and weight the ends of legislation, the means of attaining them, and the cost.’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes; 1897) [1]

The World Bank’s policy focus shifted in the 1990s from a market-oriented paradigm to other issues such as social justice, poverty reduction and “market failures”, where institutions had to play a greater role [2]. Known as the Post-Washington Consensus or the Third Moment in Law and Development, this new paradigm emphasizes the importance of “good governance”, the implementation of property rights for economic growth, and makes the following proposition: well-defined and formalized property rights lead to market efficiency, economic growth and development. Hence, since then the establishment of the “rule of law” has become the new goal to reach for developing countries.

However, this Law and Economics paradigm relies on a narrow set of theoretical assumptions and is heavily influenced by neoclassical views of the state, the market and overall competition. But this framework raises some questions: (a) are these assumptions empirically valid, namely is the implementation of property rights a necessary condition for economic growth and development? And (b) are “perfect competition” and “market failures” reliable concepts one should start from to cope with development – if by such term we mean a social and economic process that will ultimately increase human well being?Read More »

The Market or the State: Why Polanyi Still Matters

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During the 1990s, although the market paradigm was dominant in economics and public policy, a new literature stressing the importance of the role of the state in industrialization rose to fame. We can mention Alice Amsden’s Asia Next Giant (1989), Robert Wade’s Governing the Market (1990) or Peter Evans’ Embedded Autonomy (1995). This literature dwelled on the East Asian miraculous industrialization and showed with empirical and historical evidence how the state apparatus was necessary to spark the economic take off. More recently, these academic attempts multiplied (for instance in the developmental state literature with Ha-Joon Chang’s Kicking away the Ladder, 2002) and gained new interest after the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, this literature is not novel and draws its inspiration from previous economists and social scientists, who for a long time warned us of the danger of disintegrating the state from the economic sphere. On the other hand, mainstream theorists tend to undermine, if not ignore, state intervention and consider it as an exogenous variable to economic growth (see for example Bela Balassa, Lord P. T. Bauer, Anne Krueger and Deepak Lal). The post-1980s era had provoked academic debates around the role of the market versus the role of the state for developing countries: the claim made by mainstream economists and politicians was that countries which pursued a state-led industrial policy failed greatly and that the Latin-American debt crises was an illustration of this (see for example the 1983 World Development Report). On the contrary, it was observed that the East Asian newly industrialized countries (the so-called ‘four tigers’) ‘miraculously’ developed by pursuing market-oriented policies (see for example the World Bank). As heterodox economists, such as Amsden, Wade, and Evans, retaliated by stating the exact opposite, the extent to which the state could be an industrial actor or not become a new agora for both camps.

However, what if the terms of the debate were problematic at the conceptual level from the beginning? Is the dichotomy “state vs. market” as evident as it appears to be in policy debates? A theoretical detour going back to Karl Polanyi might help us shed some light on this issue.

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