Daniel W. Drezner

The Best Work on Political Economy in 2017

It’s the last day of the calendar year. Finally, it is time for Spoiler Alerts to award its annual Albies for the best writing on global political economy for 2017.

The Albies are named for the late, great political economist Albert O. Hirschman. Past winners have varied from prestigious university-press books to snarky Twitter feeds. The important thing about an Albie-winning piece of work is that it forces the reader to think about the past, present or future politics of the global economy in a way that can’t be un-thought.

In no particular order, here are the 10 Albie winners for the year 2017:

1) Jonathan Kirshner, “America, America,” Los Angeles Review of Books, Jan. 15, 2017. There have been a lot of essays written about what the election of Donald Trump means for the liberal international order. Kirshner’s essay has the twin advantages of being one of the first and one of the best. I have disagreed with Kirshner on many global political economy issues since 2008. This essay, however, contains some statements that haunt me almost 12 months later, and will likely haunt me throughout Trump’s presidency. Read the whole thing.

2) Margaret Peters, “Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization,” Princeton University Press. The developed world has undeniably shifted against more open migration flows in the 21st century. If large corporations like large inflows of cheap labor, why is this happening? Peters’ book argues that multinational corporations have developed substitutable strategies to negotiate the open global economy. This has weakened corporate support for freer immigration, which in turn helps to explain the restrictionist turn in the United States and Europe.

3) Alexandra Guisinger and Elizabeth Saunders, “Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion across International Issues,” International Studies Quarterly, June 2017. Full disclosure: I relied heavily on a working paper version of this article when I was writing The Ideas Industry. Through a series of experiments, Guisinger and Saunders show the limits of elite consensus. In essence, the more an issue area is polarized in the public’s mind, the less that elite consensus can shift public opinion.

4) Judith Kelley, “Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence their Reputation and Behavior,” Cambridge University Press. You would think that merely issuing rankings of national performance on issues of concern would not have much power over those states. You would be wrong. Kelley’s book carefully documents how and why states care very much about how they are ranked in areas ranging from combating corruption to stopping human trafficking.

5) Douglas Irwin, “Clashing Over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy,” University of Chicago Press. Is the Trump administration is overseeing a wholesale change in American trade policy? To answer this, you have to know what the status quo ante looked like, and you also have to have an appreciation for the history of American trade policy. Irwin, one of the foremost trade historians alive, tackles this question in this exhaustive but invaluable history. He shows how American trade policy has shifted over the years from focusing on revenue to doubling down on restriction to emphasizing reciprocity from trading partners.

6) John Lanchester, “You Are The Product,” London Review of Books, Aug. 17, 2017. If 2016 was the year that social media began to arouse political suspicions, 2017 was the year those suspicions curdled into something closer to hostility. There was a lot of good work on the growing divide between Silicon Valley’s best interests and the best interests of everyone else. Lanchester’s focus on Facebook, however, best crystallized this shift in political perceptions.

7) Barry Eichengreen, Arnaud Mehl and Livia Chitu, “Mars or Mercury? The Geopolitics of International Currency Choice,” NBER Working Paper No. 24145, December. Both economic attractiveness and geopolitical preferences have been posited to play a role in determining central bank holdings of reserve currencies. Eichengreen and his co-authors look at the late 19th century foreign reserves during a period of shifting alliances. They conclude that security alliances can boost member state holdings of allied currencies by as much as 30 percent. They further project that if the United States chooses to retrench from its security alliances, “long-term U.S. interest rates could rise by as much as 80 basis points.”

8) Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus, Jim Rutenberg and Steve Eder, “Harvey Weinstein’s Complicity Machine,” The New York Times, Dec. 5, 2017; Salma Hayek, “Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too,” The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2017. A lot of fantastic journalism and first-person accounts have been written about the sexual harassment scandals that have engulfed the entertainment and media industries. What these two stories do best, however, is demonstrate just how sexual harassers in high places are able to institutionalize their power to cajole, coerce or intimidate those who resisted them into compliance. Hayek’s searing op-ed details the emotional and material costs of dealing with someone like Harvey Weinstein. Anyone who says there is no gender component to the study of political economy needs to read these accounts.

9) Jeffrey Brown and Jiekun Huang, “All the President’s Friends: Political Access and Firm Value,” NBER Working Paper 23356, April. There’s a lot of talk about how the current president likes to enrich his friends. This paper shows that the phenomenon of rent-seeking is hardly unique to the current administration. In an inspired use of the Obama administration’s White House visitor logs, the authors looked at how private-sector links with the federal government improve their bottom line. Their findings: “corporate executives’ meetings with key policymakers are associated with positive abnormal stock returns.” And that is just one of many interesting results.

10) Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, “World Inequality Report 2018,” World Inequality Lab. Economic inequality has been a running theme of the global political economy over the past few years. Many of the authors most interested in the topic have put together a useful and accessible report on recent trends. Some of the results are counterintuitive and surprising: by some metrics, inequality in the United States peaked a decade or so ago and has not gotten worse. The most important result: “the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality.”

Honorable mentions: Mark Blyth and Matthias Matthijs, “Black Swans, Lame Ducks, and the mystery of IPE’s missing macroeconomy,” Review of International Political Economy; Boston Consulting Group, “Global Wealth 2017“; the 38 articles that David Autor probably co-authored this year.

(The Washington Post)