From ‘What New Political Economy Is’ to ‘Why Is Everything New Political Economy?’

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In this paper, I aim to define New Political Economy (NPE) as a label for the economic analysis of politics, for the English language. The term “political economy” itself, although it has ceased to be the preferred term by which economists refer to their discipline, it is still being used by a variety of scholars, especially for interdisciplinary research with political science and other social sciences. The term gained prominence with various critiques to orthodox economics, especially to the theory of economic policy and to economic planning. They ignored issues of political economy, such as the self-interest of politicians. The public choice movement revived these issues by applying rational choice theory to politics, but preferred the label “public choice” to designate its movement. Scholars and traditions not affiliated with the public choice movement prefer the label “(new) political economy” to refer to their own economic analysis of politics. The search for a proper label is still ongoing, but they show how they can differentiate their objectives and affiliations.

Posted for comments on 11 Nov 2020, 10:58 am.

Comments (3)

  • Michael Monterey says:

    While I look forward to reading the entire essay, it seems useful to consider the basic premises stated in the abstract. For example, the last 2 sentences of the author’s footnote 9 (page 1) goes to the roots of the issues intrinsic to the problem. It also seems useful to recall that the problem can be best understood with the best basic grasp of the etymologies, epistemics, semantics, and sociocultural factors and contributing circumstances that brought us to this state of disintegrative status quo. Of course, that requires a good understanding of real history and bio-ethical axiology. Otherwise, there is little or no chance of distinguishing truth from opinion, or quality from quantity.
    That seems to matter, re: the subject. For instance, though combining a rigorous analysis of politics as is clearly necessary for a truly realistic economics, that requires good understanding of the key terms and actualities involved. Yet, as Kohr and Schumacher must have realized, when economists allowed the divorce of economics and ethics, the Good was amputated from value. Naturally, that permitted the confusion of quantity and quality, or else a normative, selective inattention maintaining a progressive drift away from effective realism. For, after all, trying to understand the actualities, complexities, motives, and consequences of corrupted human individuals, communities, cultures/societies without a good grasp of bio-ethical axiology, truth, linguistics, and actual history is pure futility. Obviously, we only perceive and conceive of what is thinkable and discussable per our subliminal psychosocial-linguistic paradigm, ego’s set of definitions, connotations, and rules for maintaining its self-world construct and its sense of safety.
    Thus, instead of the original (Greek) ‘oikonomia’–the art of living well, re: mothers’ hearth & home, for the Good of family & communal harmony–our modern word ‘economics’ has little or no connection with that art, and less than effective usefulness for recovering that lost art as a viable domain of discourse and praxis. So, it seems wise to rehabilitate/upgrade axiology to deconfuse “value” and “good” and quantity and quality. For example, if we re-humanize axiology to restore the goodness, actual meaning, and value of a value (AKA a Good), then we can consider and analyze the nature and actualities of events, transactions, activities, motivations, intentions, tendencies, vices, and consequences of human beings, groups, communities, etc.
    Accomplishing that, we may then witness a post-modern era of truly holistic oikonomia that enables, fosters, and expedites transition to and evolution of a sustainable, non-kleptocratic civilization capable of preventing ecocidal politics and mass-self-extinction. Otherwise– regardless of preferred labels–it seems likely that factional economics-as-is will help perpetuate rampant, anti-ethical plutonomy and metastatic kleptocracy-as-usual. Clearly, the biggest ‘winners’ of their pyramid game don’t care what we call anything nor, apparently, do they care about the terminal consequences for all human beings of all generations.
    So, though realistic analysis of the causes and consequences of politics-as-usual is vitally important, naming the discipline either New Political Economy or Neopolitical Economics will not alter or stop or improve the realities and harms of the ecocidal plutonomics of kleptocracy. However, initiating an integrative, post-modern approach–developing a truly holistic oikonomia + a viable ontology of economics + holistic meta-economics metatheory–seems of real value (i.e., a Good). Again, of course, that requires sufficient intent and willingness to reintroduce ethics and goodness into our domain of discourse and praxis. Hence, I have no idea when or if that might happen.
    I hope Rafael’s paper is a step in the best direction. Yet, evidently, as shown by the underwhelming responses to the works of Asad Zaman (et al), the conservative/conformist momentum, inertia, and enropy of normative economics + plutonomics may be too formidable to divert before it reaches the brink of the abyss. Therefore, I also hope for any indication that there is a miracle cure, ASAP. Clearly though, if most modern egos deliberately ignore the ethical dimension (and dilemma) of sociocultural reality, effective systemic change (for the better) is highly unlikely.
    Thanks ~ MM

    • Rafael Galvão de Almeida says:

      Thank you for the comment, mr. Monterey, I appreciate the interest.

      In fact, economics has a problem of underlying values in its theory. I can recommend Donald Gilles’s article in v. 9, n. 1 of this journal, and my subsequent comment. To summarize, I do not believe economics is as value-free as many economists claims, neither is political economy (in my thesis, where this submited article comes from, there is a section discussing the possibility of a value-free political economy and I conclude with skepticism). The “new political economy”, when developed by rational choice-based economists has claimed otherwise, but few people outside their peers take this claim seriously. In fact, economists might not even take their own concepts seriously (see Steve Keen’s article “The appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change” in Globalizations).

      Although the search for a holistic economics – that can truly surpass the capitalist hegemony – is something we all must look forward to, my objectives in the article I submitted are more modest: to explore how economists have “fought” for the “right” to use the term “political economy”. I focused on the appropriation of the term by the public choice movement because they have an interest in aggregating all forms of economic analysis of politics under their wing; however, not all rational-choice based economists want to be associated with the public choice movement, and yet they still use the term “political economy” or “political economics” to refer to their approach.

      But it’s just a small part of the fight for the term. I have not gone into details about the dispute outside rational choice economics, such as in Marxism and political philosophy (which I use Charles England’s thesis as an example), but I would be doing a disservice to the readers if I just ignore them – that is why I mention them. Though, the idea of holistic economics would be more in line with what Bernard Lonergan’s intended, which was the first one to call for a “new political economy”. The idea of expanding this into a holistic economics might be a good theme for future research. For the moment, I hope my article can enlighten problems in how economists choose to label themselves and their research.

  • Marcos Taroco Resende says:

    I start my comments on Rafael’s paper saying that I really enjoy it. I think the paper demonstrated a great capacity to summarize the variety of definitions, meanings, uses, and problems of the term “New Political Economy”, from distinct approaches and schools of economic thought, and even inside Public Choice Movement. This isn’t a minor achievement. In addition, it’s a useful basis for future works that deal with the History of New Political Economy and labeling in economics. Though I appreciated the view and agree with to the main arguments of the paper, I have two issues for discussion and a final comment.
    First of all, section two, “The rise and fall of the theory of economic policy and economic planning”, offers an important background that throws light on New Political Economy and Public Choice origins in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that it was a kind of such a theoretical reaction to the “Theory of Economic Policy” and economic planning, that had an influence on the “art” of economic policy in the post-World War II, informed by a technocratic view of economic problems. Despite the relationship between economic ideas and policies is a challenging one, that raised a question to me: How the theoretical development of “New Political Economy” impacted the mind of policymakers and the application of economic policies during the following decades? I consider that’s an important question since the “New Political Economy” dealt with topics related to politics, or in Rafael’s own words “economic analysis of politics”. Might anyone say that New Political Economy reinforced technocratic views and free markets ideas in post-WWII?
    Secondly, when I was reading the paper, I felt a tension between, on one hand, a view that considers New Political Economy as an interdisciplinary approach that combines Economics and Political Science, and, on the other hand, a perspective that instead acknowledges that New Political Economy had a “imperialist approach” because of its rational choice economic agent model and other features. Rafael presents these two possibilities of interpretation and I think such tension was unsolved in the paper in the sense that the author’s own vision could be more explicit. What I mean, and Rafael clearly recognizes it in the text, is that analyzing politics from an economic point of view it’s far different from of an interdisciplinary approach.
    Finally, I want to stress the point regarding the assertion that labels matters. I am in full agreement with it. Labels like New Political Economy, Public Choice, Cambridge School, Chicago School, Virginia School, Post-Keynesian school have been used in a widespread manner in the field of History of Economic Thought to describe different groups of people, institutions, and ideas. Although scholars employing labels have never offered the meanings and descriptions with accuracy (because it’s impossible) given the complexity of the different features, concepts, and ideas of the economists, this task is far necessary to try to reconstitute economic ideas from the past. In this sense, the paper traced carefully the different appropriations of the label “New Political Economy”, without losing its difficulties and ambiguities while emphasizes what is more important in order to define it in general terms. Considering what was discussed before, in my opinion, the paper is ready for publication and effectively brings a contribution to the field.

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