In defining international free trade as a public good, “hegemonic stability theory” posited early in the 1970s that its reliable supply depended upon a distribution of international power analogous to that within a privileged group. More recently, however, critics have challenged three assumptions fundamental to hegemonic theory: its premises of free trade, public goods, and privileged groups. They have concluded that hegemony is not necessary for, and indeed may be antithetical to, a stable world economy based on market exchange.
The author argues that the critics overstate their case. The assumptions they attack allow hegemonic theory to represent analytically several critically important barriers to free trade among states. Among these are the existence of strategic interdependence among the actors and the prevalence of informational asymmetries. The most significant flaw in hegemonic theory is its neglect of the essence of the domain to which it applies: the politics of inter-state trade in an anarchic world.