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Research

One of my long-term goals is to bring together many of the key insights from this programme in order to publish a research monograph entitled, The Idea of the Market Economy. The aim will be to trace the genealogy of the idea of ‘the market’ as it has appeared in various guises in the history of economic thought. ‘The market’ is without doubt the most important metaphor in the economics worldview and, as such, it has an important constitutive effect on everyday economic relations. However, its contemporary meaning is extremely narrow. An important distinction will be drawn between the pre- and post-Jevonian theories of the market. Prior to the publication of Jevons’s Theory of Political Economy, the term was used predominantly as a descriptive concept for a physical meeting place rich in the cultural specificities of human interaction. Latterly, though, it has come to be used as shorthand for a socially disembedded logic of utility maximising behaviour associated with allocative efficiency. So dominant is this latter understanding within the canon of economics that, for professional economists at least, it now resides in the pre-conscious realm which Bourdieu describes as ‘the doxa’.

Before I turn to explore this argument, though, my attention will be concentrated on other book projects. I am currently at the formative stage of writing a book which investigates the impact on the various schools of IPE of the development of an orthodox economics whose increasing sophistication has been bought at the cost of its economic content. The book will focus on what I have provisionally been calling the development of an 'uneconomic' economics, and its core argument presents the possibly controversial case that a conventional historiography of economics rationalises and further embeds a distinctive approach to the subject field which is largely devoid of genuine economic implications. For academic year 2007/2008 I held an ESRC Small Grant for the project 'Re-thinking the Adam Smith Problem' (RES-000-22-2198, £53k). Details of the ongoing findings from this research have been uploaded on the ESRC website and can be found there - http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/. My proposed book on uneconomic economics emerges directly from the ESRC-funded research, because it focuses on the creation of a deeply 'Walrasianised' Smith to act as the key figure in the stories which economists typically tell one another about how their subject field explains the ability of markets to render coherent via exchange relations what would otherwise be uncoordinated individual economic behaviour. The solution to the so-called coordination problem, they suggest, lies in Léon Walras's classic formalisation within a general equilibrium approach of Smith's 'invisible hand' dynamics. However, neither Smith nor Walras ever succeeded in solving the coordination problem economically. Smith did not even try, believing that market coordination was not an economic matter so much as a moral matter relating to the ethics which individuals display in exchange relations. Walras, by contrast, tried but failed. He was only capable of deriving a purely mathematical solution for representations of markets which had no economic content properly speaking. The orthodox historiography of economics, as organised around the image of a Walrasianised Smith, somewhat perplexingly treats this as a success rather than as a failure. In this respect, it continues to profess a distinctly uneconomic economics. This is an important insight for both of IPE's two major transatlantic schools, what Jerry Cohen has recently called the 'American' and 'British' Schools. In general, the American School accepts the conventional economics historiography pretty much unquestioningly, using the idea that markets coordinate economic behaviour unproblematically as the basis for modelling the political relationships which underpin the organisation of the international economy. The British School, by contrast, treats economics as a crucial means through which market ideology is established in everyday life. It also tends to accept the conventional economics historiography pretty much unquestioningly so as to emphasise its ideological effects. The book will show that both principal Schools of IPE have much to learn from a more questioning approach to the conventional historiography. In particular, the relationship between IPE and economics can be put on a surer footing when acknowledging that there is no genuinely economic justification - at least not as presented in economic theory - for the introduction of market institutions into everyday life.

In time, I also hope to write a second book directly from the research for my recently completed ESRC project, this time with a title directly echoing that of the project. The aim of this book will be to show that, read holistically, Smith’s work reveals an irresolvable tension between the personal dispositions and character traits which he believed drive the economic dynamics of a commercial way of life and the rather different personal dispositions and character traits which he believed sustain the social basis of that same way of life. From the perspective of the moral constitution of the individual, it is impossible for the same person to exhibit both sets of characteristics at once, which suggests that the economic and the social dimensions of market life might well be contradictory entities. This argument will be presented at the end of a historiographical reconstruction which is designed to serve as an alternative to the well-known 'Adam Smith Problem'. It will reveal the many layers of interpretation - and often misinterpretation - which exist between Smith's original texts and the image of those texts to which members of the German Historical School appealed in announcing the presence of the original problem. Their concerns were how to reconcile practical issues relating to the contemporary German economy with post-Smithian developments in British classical economics: fearing that there was no reconciliation they then projected backwards their discomfort with post-Smithian developments into an unsustainable critique of Smith's original texts. There would therefore seem to be no basis from which to argue for the alleged Adam Smith Problem in its original form. However, the current trend in Smith scholarship is to deny the existence of any such problem by stating that consistency is the dominant motif running all the way through his separate texts. This serves to deflect attention away from the more important point that on the whole Smith ran two distinct arguments through his work. One focuses on the types of market relations one would expect to encounter in the presence of pristine moral agency, but the other focuses on what is much more likely to become the dominant character of economic institutions when human agents demonstrate their moral fallibility.

The underlying concerns of my forthcoming book projects thereby mirror those of the single-authored books which I have already completed. (1) My Foundations of International Political Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) asks how the basis of IPE scholarship might be reformulated if it were to focus less on ‘the market’ as an ontological given and more on the culturally specific constitution of individual market agents. It features an attempt to put in place an alternative ontological starting point for IPE, one which is grounded in the style of analysis of the classical political economists and their concern for understanding market relations as lived experiences rather than as an abstract logic. This is then presented as a means of deriving a theoretically robust critical IPE, which is capable of recognising the social significance of economic theory but which resists colonisation by it. (2) My Political Economy of International Capital Mobility (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) tries to do something similar, only this time not for IPE as a whole but for those people within IPE who specialise on issues of international finance. The aim is to provide an explicitly economic definition of capital mobility which focuses the discussion on individual decisions to alter the nature of investment holdings in a manner which gives the impression of capital being placed ‘in motion’. The political and intellectual bases of current conditions of capital mobility are illustrated through a number of case studies, with a view to repoliticising those conditions.

I am also a contributor to two major Oxford University Press textbooks: the second and third editions of John Ravenhill's Global Political Economy; and the fifth edition of John Baylis, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens's The Globalization of World Politics.