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Introduction: approaches to explaining American foreign economic policy

  • G. John Ikenberry, David A. Lake and Michael Mastanduno


Despite its relative economic decline, the United States remains the dominant power in the world economy. The foreign economic actions taken by American officials, whether they involve trade, technology transfer, or the value of the dollar, continue to have profound consequences for other states in the international system, as well as for American domestic politics and economics. Thus, it is not surprising that the study of American foreign economic policy attracts considerable scholarly attention, and presently constitutes a major portion of the subfield of international political economy.



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1. Examples and discussions of system-centered approaches include Kindleberger, Charles, The World in Depression (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973); Keohane, Robert, “The Theory of Hegemonic Stability and Changes in International Economic Regimes,” in Ole, Holsti, Siverson, R., and George, A., eds., Change in the International System (Boulder: West-view Press, 1980); Krasner, Stephen, “State Power and the Structure of International Trade,” World Politics 28 (04 1976), pp. 317–43; Lake, David A., “International Economic Structures and American Foreign Economic Policy, 1887–1934,” World Politics 35 (07 1983), pp. 517–43; and Snidal, Duncan, “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” International Organization 39 (Autumn 1985), pp. 579614.

2. Society-centered approaches include Schattschneider, E. E., Politics, Pressures and the Tariff (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1935); Pincus, Jonathan J., Pressure Groups and Politics in Antebellum Tariffs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); McKeown, Timothy, “Firms and Tariff Regime Change: Explaining the Demand for Protection,” World Politics 36 (01 1984), pp. 215–33; and Gourevitch, Peter, Politics in Hard Times (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986).

3. On state-centered approaches, see Katzenstein, Peter J., “Conclusion: Domestic Structures and Strategies of Foreign Economic Policy,” in Katzenstein, , ed., Between Power and Plenty (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), and Small States in World Markets (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986); Krasner, Stephen, Defending the National Interest (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978); and Ikenberry, G. John, “The Irony of State Strength: Comparative Responses to the Oil Shocks,” International Organization 40 (Winter 1986), pp. 105–37.

4. Jeff Frieden's contribution to this volume is an exception, since it does not support this general finding.

5. See Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of international Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979), and Keohane, Robert, “Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond,” in Keohane, , ed., Neorealism and its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

6. Keohane's, statement is found in “The World Political Economy and the Crisis of Embedded Liberalism,” in Goldthorpe, John H., ed., Order and Conflict in Contemporary Capitalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 16.

7. See Walierstein, , The Modern World System, vols. 1 and 2 (New York: Academic Press, 1974 and 1978); on transnational relations, see ****Morse, Edward, Modernization and the Transformation of International Relations (New York: Free Press, 1976), and Keohane, Robert and Nye, Joseph, Power and Interdependence (Boston: Little, Brown, 1977); on regimes, see Krasner, Stephen, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982).

8. See Snidal, , “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory”; Keohane, , After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); McKeown, Timothy, “Hegemonic Stability Theory and Nineteenth-Century Tariff Levels in Europe,” International Organization 37 (Winter 1983); and Cowhey, Peter and Long, Edward, “Testing Theories of Regime Change: Hegemonic Decline or Surplus Capacity?International Organization 37 (Spring 1983). A good discussion of the theory is found in Gilpin, Robert, The Political Economy of International Relations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 8592.

9. See Waltz, , Theory of International Politics.

10. The classic statements of the pluralist perspective can be found in Truman, David, The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion (New York: Knopf, 1951), and Dalfi, Robert, Who Governs? (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963). Subsequent revisions of the pluralist approach dispute some of its elements, but retain the essense of the society-centered focus. See Lowi, Theodore, The End of Liberalism (New York: Norton, 1969), and Lindblom, Charles, Politics and Markets (New York: Basic Books, 1977).

11. See Schattschneider, , Politics, Pressures and the Tariff; Pincus, , Antebellum Tariffs; Gourevitch, Peter, “International Trade, Domestic Coalitions, and Liberty: Comparative Responses to the Crisis of 1873–1896,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 8 (Autumn 1977); Ferguson, Thomas, “From Normalcy to New Deal: Industrial Structure, Party Competition, and American Public Policy in the Great Depression,” International Organization 38 (Winter 1984).; Also relevant is the growing literature on “rent-seeking” behavior. See Baldwin, Robert, The Political Economy of U.S. Import Policy (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1986); Lavergne, Réal P., The Political Economy of U.S. Tariffs (New York: Academic Press, 1983).

12. In his latest work, Politics in Hard Times, Gourevitch attempts to address this problem by developing a more structured conception of interest groups and coalitions.

13. This point is raised by McKeown, , “Firms and Tariff Regime Change.”

14. Skocpol, , “Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research,” in Evans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

15. See Katzenstein, , “Conclusion”; and Krasner, , “State Power”; Zysman, John, Governments, Markets and Growth (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983); Evans, Peter, Dependent Development (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979); Stepan, Alfred, The State and Society: Peru in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978).

16. Skocpol, , “Bringing the State Back In.”

17. See Krasner, Stephen, “Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics,” Comparative Politics 16 (01 1984), and March, James and Olsen, Johan, “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life,” American Political Science Review 78 (09 1984), pp. 734–50.

18. For example, Krasner suggests that the high-level government officials (i.e., “central decision-makers”) are uniquely charged with protecting and promoting broad national security interests and thus are led to develop a distinctive and autonomous set of preferences. See Krasner, , Defending the National Interest. Alternatively, it has been argued that the preservation of bureaucratic missions and the maintenance of control over annual budgetary resources may lead state officials to adopt preferences at variance with the interests of societal groups. See Allison, Graham, Essence of Decision (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), and Halperin, Morton H., Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1974).

19. See Krasner, , “United States Commercial and Monetary Policy”; Katzenstein, , “Conclusion”; Nettl, J. P., “The State as a Conceptual Variable,” World Politics 20 (07 1968), pp. 559–92; Katznelson, Ira, “Rethinking the Silences of Social and Economic Policy,” Political Science Quarterly 101 (Summer 1986), pp. 307–25, especially 321–25.

20. Recent work by Helen Milner suggests that the weak state/strong state distinction may be problematic in the comparative context as well. See Milner, , “Resisting the Protectionist Temptation: Industry and the Making of Trade Policy in France and the United States during the 1970s,” International Organization 41 (Autumn 1987).

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Introduction: approaches to explaining American foreign economic policy

  • G. John Ikenberry, David A. Lake and Michael Mastanduno


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