The Governance of the International Political Economy – by Anthony Payne & Nicola Phillips

Hands in the airIf you ask most people by whom they are governed or, more pointedly, from where they are governed, they will probably answer by referring you to the ‘government’ of the country in which they live. Some might throw in a reference to the local government of their city, region or locality; some, especially those living in Europe, might also mention their sense that they are increasingly being governed by bureaucrats and politicians who work beyond national borders in regional institutions.

Hardly anyone will allude in any way to the international or global stage. Doesn’t everyone know that there is no ‘world government’? Isn’t international politics just a matter of state opposing state, with every country using its power to get away with whatever it can? Well, yes and no.

Yes: there exists no world government in the formal sense of there being a single acknowledged authority, whether legitimate or illegitimate, which is responsible for ruling the world. But, also, No: international politics these days is much more complicated – and indeed much more consensual for much, perhaps most, of the time – than is suggested by the familiar crude image of international anarchy. In fact, there is a very good argument and masses of evidence to suggest that, actually, we are also being governed at the global level, as well as at the local, the national and the regional.

What is going on is not government as such, but it is what these days is known as ‘governance’ – a looser, perhaps less visible, but nonetheless crucially important, process by which rules are laid down, decisions taken and power wielded in relation to all of the key economic and social issues that affect the lives of people everywhere, regardless of which country they inhabit and to which national government they supposedly owe loyalty.

This is what students of the subject – like ourselves – refer to as ‘the governance of the international political economy’.

Book coverWhat’s more, we have spent a lot of time over the last three years gathering up the best and most recent research from academic colleagues working on different aspects of this global process of governance and editing it into a huge Handbook of the International Political Economy of Governance. It has no fewer than 25 chapters and, unsurprisingly, we think it’s a fantastically comprehensive and up-to-date account of what goes on these days under the rubric of so-called ‘global governance’!

But you may not have the time to read through all the analysis that our various authors have to report and so we will try to summarise here the major conclusions that, collectively, we all come to. In a nutshell, there are four key claims made by the book.

  • We take it as foundational that all modes of governance are distinguished by their differing ideological assumptions and we note the, perhaps surprising, extent to which neoliberalism – in varying forms the dominant ideological form of the past thirty or more years in global affairs – seems just to ‘go on and on’. Despite the massive disruption to normal business generated by the global financial crisis of 2008-9, challenges to the ideological orthodoxy represented by neoliberalism have mostly been absorbed into its thick skin. Nor do the ‘rising powers’ of China, India and Brazil, as yet, offer a coherent alternative ideology of global governance.
  • We confirm that governance is both articulated and practised at a number of levels within the international political economy and suggest that growing global interdependence now requires both more frequent and more effective ‘governance across levels’. This is not generally something that we are very good at, as witnessed by the dead-locks that seem to have been reached in the global negotiations relating both to international trade and climate change.
  • We argue that the contemporary governance of the international political economy is genuinely pluralist in that, each day, it depends upon the activities of multiple actors operating from many institutional bases. But we insist that this so-called ‘transnational pluralism’ is at the same time deeply unequal in respect of the capacities, both ideational and material, that varying actors can and do bring to bear upon the governance agendas with which they engage. Again and again, we see that multinational corporations, financial market actors, consumers, epistemic communities of scientists and experts – all are much better positioned to organise their activities on a transnational basis than, say, trade unionists, workers or even nationally-organised forms of business.
  • We think that it is vital as well to probe the ethical dimension of all forms of governance of the international political economy and we devote considerable attention to thinking differently how everyday global governance can be ‘imagined otherwise’. In other words, we assert repeatedly that issues of representation, inclusion and exclusion, equity, legitimacy of decision-making and yawning democratic deficits do very much belong in the contemporary discussion of global governance and we explore when, where and how such matters arise and get resolved, if indeed they do.

What, then, is the final picture that emerges? However disappointing it is to admit it, the truth is that we are not well governed globally; in fact, we are often misgoverned or governed badly. We remain prey to the power of a dominant ideology that doesn’t serve the interests of even a majority of the world’s peoples, let alone all of them. We haven’t put in place consistently effective mechanisms for bringing off the complex coordination needed to advance solutions to the most ‘wicked’ of global problems. We tolerate the unequal access of different types of actors to the main sources of power and decision-making in the international political economy and we don’t subject the resulting arrangements to sufficient, rigorous, ethical examination.

Regardless of how well we think we do as academic analysts, as citizens of a troubled and threatened world we clearly need to do better.


Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips are Professors of Politics and of Political Economy respectively at the University of Sheffield, UK. They have recently co-edited the Handbook of the International Political Economy of Governance (Edward Elgar, 2014).

Also available as an eBook for subscribing libraries on elgaronline

Click here to download the introduction.

, , , , , ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: