Robert Gilpin’s and Robert Cox’s Approaches to International Political Economy

The purpose of this essay is to compare Robert Gilpin’s article, ‘The Politics of Transnational Economic Relations’ and Robert Cox’s article, ‘Gramsci and International Relations Theory: An essay in method’; the focus is on assessing which of the two authors’ general approach to IPE is more persuasive and why. The two authors offer contrasting views on the basis for IPE. However, this essay argues that the approach offered by Gilpin may be more helpful in explaining the world economic order or the international political economy. Gilpin’s argument posits that transnational actors and processes are dependent upon specific patterns of inter-state relations and that “although the economic and technical substructure partially determines and intersects with the political superstructure, political values and security interests are crucial determinants of international economic relations” (Gilpin, 1971, p.405), is more appropriate to explain the basis for the international political economy.

Gilpin’s argument is that the economic framework of the state is moulded to serve the interests of the state. It is the states that set the boundaries for the operation of the economy. For example, the period between 1845-1875 demonstrated the British hegemonic order, because in this time, Britain was the centre of the world economy and this period saw that the British state was the predominant actor in building its own economy as well as leading to the industrializing process in the world economy. Cox too speaks about the centrality of the British state in the world economy in this period but, he explains this centrality on the basis of hegemony. Indeed, Cox’s fundamental argument is based on Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and the idea that the world order is grounded in social relations. Thus, we see that there are opposing arguments being made by Gilpin and Cox, with the former focussing on the position of the state and inter-state relations and the latter focussing on the idea of hegemony of the bourgeoisie in the world politics. Cox uses Gramski’s theory to explain world economy, which means that Lenin’s concept of a proletariat hegemony onto the bourgeoisie is applied to explain the world economy on the ground they are the leaders of the world economy. Gramski argues that the bourgeoisie hegemony is deeply entrenched in society, and that the state was run by the bourgeoisie and by other political actors who were accepting of certain limitations to their political actions (Cox, 1983, p.163). It is difficult to agree that the basis of the entire world political economy is this dominance of the bourgeoisie although it may be agreed that there is some persuasiveness of the claim of hegemony being the basis of world economy.

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In so far as Cox speaks about hegemony as being the basis of world economic order, it can be persuasive because as Cox himself provides the evidence of British hegemony in 1845-1945 or American hegemony in 1945-1965. However, the difficulty arises when Cox bases this hegemony on the dominance of the bourgeoisie classes in different countries. This is so because this argument is limited to countries where such bourgeoisie classes are dominant. This may not be the case for all kinds of countries in this world. To this, Cox provides the argument that the dominant classes of the hegemon states in the world economic order express their hegemony through international organisations where the elites of the peripheral states are also co-opted. In other words, the world economy is based on the historic blocs within national boundaries who play a dominant role within the state and through international relations, outside of states.

Why Gilpin is more relevant to understanding modern international political economy is because it is based on a realist understanding of the international relations, in contrast with the Marxist position taken by Grimsci as offered by Cox. Gilpin (based on the realist theory of international relations), argues that it is not the production of wealth that is the determinant of social and political organisation, but power, security and national sentiment. This is more persuasive because the formation of the international organisations like the International Monetary Fund, General Agreement on Tariff and Trade, World Bank do relate to these concepts. This can also be extended to the formation of the international organisations like North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European Community, and other such organisations that seek to align nations political and economic interests with each other as part of the bigger regional or global economy. These are not driven by the bourgeoisie domination within the nations and the rearrangement of hegemony as argued by Cox, but by the demands of security and power and national sentiment on concepts related to economy and policy. Gilpin argues that “political values and security interests are crucial determinants of international economic relations. Politics determines the framework of economic activity and channels it in directions which tend to serve the political objectives of dominant political groups and organizations” (Gilpin, 1971, p. 403).

Again, Gilpin is also speaking about hegemony of a few dominant political groups but does not limit the nature of these groups to bourgeoisie. These dominant groups could be organised on a number of factors, which may not necessarily mean only economic factors. Therefore, Gilpin argues that successive hegemonic powers have always organised economic space in terms interests and purposes. Thus, be it within the national space or the international relations, economic space gets organised by dominant powers. Where Gilpin and Cox agree on is related to the use of hegemony for organising world economy, but they disagree on the source of hegemony.

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In conclusion, Gilpin provides a more persuasive theory on organisation of IPE because international political economy is not based only on the hegemony of the dominant classes within a nation but the larger national sentiment on important economic and political issues as well as needs of security and power.

References:

Robert Gilpin, “The Politics of Transnational Economic Relations,” International Organization, Vol. 25, no.3 (Summer 1971): 398-419.

Robert Cox, “Gramsci and International Relations Theory: an essay in method,” Millennium, Vol. 12, no.2 (Summer 1983): 162-75.


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