My Research

A political scientist by training, I specialize in international and comparative political economy, globalization and global governance, the politics of education, and development studies.  This page describes the trajectory of my research, highlighting the broader theoretical agenda that informs my approach to these topics.

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Although I have never considered myself a ‘policy analyst’ as such, much of my academic research to this point has been oriented around today’s most important development and foreign policy questions – questions about the dynamics of global collective action, the formation (and breakdown) of institutions, and the political underpinnings of economic development in the broadest sense.

Before arriving at the LSE, I had already published Ruling the World:  Power Politics and the Rise of Supranational Institutions (Princeton University Press, 2000) as well as ‘Power Politics and the Free Trade Bandwagon’, a follow-up piece in Comparative Political Studies.  Those  publications used rational choice theory to provide new insights into international economic and environmental cooperation – insights into why it happens and how what I termed ‘go-it-alone power’ can drive the process forward even when everyone is behaving voluntarily, without in any way being subjected to coercive pressure.

Although Ruling the World offered a first cut at these issues, ‘Power Politics and the Institutionalization of International Relations’ – my contribution to Power in Global Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2005), a collection of essays edited by Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, refined the logic of my new theoretical paradigm while clarifying its application to Europe’s evolving monetary and financial systems.  As the volume’s realist centerpiece, my chapter took direct aim at the dominant approach to studying international institutions – where they have been viewed primarily as instruments for solving collective action problems – and replaced it with what I termed a ‘power politics’ model of institutional design.

My current work shifts away from these concerns with globalization’s causes and toward a related-but-distinct concern with its longer-term consequences.  Though my recent contributions each tackle a different substantive area, all look at how international trade and openness are likely to influence the prospects for economic and political development (i.e., governance) in the years ahead.  What follows is a brief synopsis of four interrelated research projects on these questions.

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1)  Revisiting the growth/equity tradeoff

A case in point is Globalization with Growth and Equity:  Can We Really Have It All?  Appearing in Third World Quarterly, this article moved beyond Ruling the World’s analysis of power and international cooperation to take up an equally important set of questions about globalization’s long-run impact on poverty and well-being.  As plentiful and productive as recent empirical work has been, we still know very little about international trade’s long-term consequences for development.  This is only partly because of data limitations.  At least as important are theoretical limitations:  economists and political scientists have yet to resolve a number of key conceptual points.

The purpose of my article was to bring these remaining theoretical puzzles to the surface.  After discussing the link between economic openness and growth, I turned to the relationship between trade and inequality.  Both links – the one from trade to growth, the other from trade to inequality – have been subjects of heated debate among development economists.  By contrast, the main focus of my article was the relationship between these two strands of research.  How growth and equity interact is a theoretical puzzle which, though no less basic than the others, had previously received far less attention.  My article concluded by laying out a back-to-basics research agenda for future-oriented globalization research in which that growth/equity trade-off is restored to (what I contend is) its rightful place at the theoretical center of the wider development literature.

2)  Will globalization help lift the world’s poor out of poverty?  What are its long-run consequences for the economically disadvantaged?

The question that has guided my research into this second set of issues is whether international economic integration may be lifting the earnings of a society’s poorest individuals and families at the same time that, by encouraging the election of political parties opposed to welfare and other types of social spending, it depresses the redistributive benefits flowing to them.  Would we regard globalization as a net gain for the poor in this case, or as just the opposite – a net loss?

By clarifying the theoretical logic behind the globalization-redistribution nexus, Trade, Growth, Poverty, and Politics:  Toward a Unified Theory, which appeared in the October 2013 issue of Politics & Policy, introduces the tools of political science into another debate that has tended to be dominated by economists.  While economists have been focusing their attention on trade’s impact on growth and the distribution of earnings, political scientists have been concentrating (just as single-mindedly) on globalization’s implications for the welfare state.  What too often gets overlooked is how these different research trajectories interact.

In calling attention to these understudied areas of overlap, this article made the case for a new – and considerably broader – way of thinking about the welfare consequences of free trade and the international regulatory regimes that sustain it.  That broader perspective in turn suggested several new avenues for normatively-driven political economy research.  Do the market inequities generated by trade and international interdependence systematically undermine the domestic redistributive systems on which poor, redistribution-reliant citizens depend for their economic well-being and continuing engagement with society?  Or should we expect to find trade-induced market inequality biasing political systems in exactly the opposite direction – toward more, not less, market-correcting redistribution?

To answer these discipline-spanning questions with any degree of confidence, we will first need to develop a more theoretically-integrated model of the mechanisms that link market inequality to non-market redistribution.  In laying out one version of that model, my article demonstrated the possibility, indeed necessity, of unifying major theoretical strands within political science, international relations, and economics.

3)  Does international integration inhibit domestic integration?  And if so, how might the ensuing rise in domestic political polarization affect countries’ redistributive systems in the years ahead?

Another strand of my new research highlights the political consequences of openness more generally.  Representative of this strand is ‘Globalization and Welfare:  Would a Rational Hegemon Still Prefer Openness?’, which appears as a chapter in Back to Basics:  State Power in a Contemporary World (Oxford University Press, 2013), a collection of essays edited by Martha Finnemore and Judith Goldstein.

Are trade and market integration conducive to long-run economic growth and development?  Almost certainly yes.  But as for trade and globalization’s impact on long-run political growth and development, here the state of our knowledge lags far behind.  ‘Globalization and Welfare’ was my effort to redress this imbalance.  The problem with trade is that it creates inequality, or so a great many critics have argued, and unequal societies are difficult to govern.  But the type of inequality that has received the most attention to date – the kind of inequality that shows up in national Gini statistics – is not incompatible with effective government.  The analysis presented in my chapter suggests we should spend less time worrying about generic inequality and more time worrying about – and finding creative solutions for – spatial inequality.  ‘Globalization and Welfare’ explains why spatial divides are what really matter (at least for politics) and why globalization may be contributing to this larger spatial-inequality syndrome.

Of particular concern in my chapter are the political externalities of globalization and, above all, the damaging effects it would appear to be having on some countries’ domestic redistributive institutions.  Many analysts would attribute these negative effects to increased trade-related societal inequality, the kind of inequality that shows up in national Gini statistics.  In contrast, my chapter suggests that increased trade-induced spatial inequality is at least as important:  the more open is a society’s economy, the more its ‘haves’ will tend to cluster into geographically-defined political districts containing few ‘have-nots’ – and vice versa.  After laying out this argument, the chapter offers a preliminary assessment of globalization’s long-term demographic effects and finds that, indeed, trade does seem to be encouraging economic segregation.  I closed my analysis by considering – and dismissing – possible objections to its emphasis on spatial segregation, e.g., that globalization reduces economic barriers to secession and, in this way, diffuses geographic tensions and the polarized politics that might otherwise accompany them.

4)  Tackling inequality in developing countries:  Is education really the answer?

My springboard for this fourth strand of my research was ‘The Tertiary Tilt:  Education and Inequality in the Developing World’, a publication in World Development I co-authored with Stephen Kosack that used the latest econometric techniques to assess the long-run consequences of the international community’s recent push for universal primary education, e.g., the UN’s 2nd Millennium Development Goal.  Our analysis of the data – a dynamic visualisation of which can be found here – found that recent international campaigns aimed at boosting access to primary education often had the unintended consequence of raising, rather than lowering, inequality in developing countries.  This, we showed, was because the leaders who governed developing countries tilted their education budgets decisively toward universities.  Universities provide a high-quality education, to be sure, but these benefits flow to a limited number of students, the vast majority of whom come from wealthy families whose political support the leaders of many developing countries need in order to stay in power.  This ‘tertiary tilt’ not only reinforces pre-existing economic cleavages; it also drains resources from the primary sector, keeping it from providing the sort of high-quality, skills-intensive – and ultimately wage-boosting – education that advocates of universal primary education typically have in mind.

 

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I should add that I am currently working on two new book manuscripts.  The first builds on my earlier research into the dynamics of global power, only here I am interested in the domestic side of the story – in how power is deployed by domestic actors and interests within states.  This first book is to be entitled The New Politics of Inequality:  How It Works, Where It’s Taking Us, How We’ll Get Back.

The second book, under contract from Cambridge University Press, will be called Class Struggle:  The Politics of Education in Developing Countries.  Here the task is to explain how poverty and inequality, rampant corruption, and power politics can make it all but impossible for developing countries to provide their children with a decent education.  This second project builds directly on – or rather down – from my earlier work on the politics of universities.  The schooling of young children and teenagers is where the action is (or ought to be) in countries where relatively few students pursue university degrees.  And yet we know far more about the economics of schooling than the politics.  Even if my previous work with Stephen Kosack can be counted as an exception, our focus was on education spending.  Many developing countries do exhibit what we called a ‘tertiary tilt’ in their spending priorities, channelling far more money to university students than to pupils in primary or secondary schools.  But education spending is just a small piece in a much larger political puzzle.  If learning and creativity are our ultimate objectives – and, yes, jobs and prosperity, too – we should spend more time explaining why politicians organize their school systems as they do than worrying about the amounts of money flowing into one sector as compared to another.

Until now, that larger puzzle piece – the institutional piece – has been missing from the education literature.  Class Struggle will begin the work of filling in that missing piece and, along the way, plug a few gaping holes in the political-economy and development literatures as well…or that’s the plan.

Alongside these two book projects I am developing a quantitative analysis of the relationship between inequality and redistribution that fuses DHS and MICS data on household wealth with data on child mortality and life expectancy in 70 countries.  I have already co-written a paper on this topic with Brian J. Gaines of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.  Entitled ‘The Health of Nations’, our paper was presented at the 2015 Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association.  Along with completing my two book manuscripts, submitting a revised draft of this paper to the British Journal of Political Science or The Lancet is one of my priorities for this summer.

 

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