International Political Economy

Mitch Kaneda, Curricular Dean; James Vreeland, Field Chair

The International Political Economy (IPEC) major investigates the rich intersection between economics and politics in the global environment. It typically goes beyond the constituent disciplines by combining traditional economic concerns about efficiency with traditional political concerns regarding distributional issues and legitimacy in market and non-market environments.  The resulting combination of insights provides a means of better  understanding complex interactions at the local, national and international levels.

The special character of international political economy derives in part from the methodological and substantive overlaps between the traditional disciplines of economics and political science. Methodologically, political economy combines formal modeling, comparative methods, and statistical techniques to analyze and evaluate competing theories of economic and political phenomena.  In addition to using methods standard in the constituent disciplines, political economy has pioneered in developing new tools for the study of collective action in the presence of conflicting private interests.

Substantively, International Political Economy analyzes how international and domestic political factors interact with economic factors to determine outcomes in a wide variety of areas, e.g., legislation, elections, government regulation, and policy formation in response to international phenomena; unilateral and multilateral activities involving international trade, finance, aid, and natural resources; local and international growth, development, and income distribution; and the interaction between business, governments, and diplomacy. The scope of inquiry ranges from mature capitalist countries, to developing economies to nations making transitions to capitalist systems.  In all cases, the focus is on issues that cannot be properly understood without insights gained from both international economics and international politics.

Goals of the Major

The International Political Economy (IPEC) major is designed to provide students with the multi-disciplinary, methodologically rigorous tools needed to understand and analyze the interaction between political and economic forces around the world. These tools, as well as the substantive knowledge gained, will serve students who pursue graduate work, or careers in the private, public, or non-profit sector, international or non-governmental organizations. The IPEC major derives in part from the overlap between economics and political science, and the substantive knowledge gained by students in the IPEC major will partly reflect this. But the IPEC major also goes beyond these constituent disciplines and will provide students with knowledge of a variety of areas, including but not limited to the problems of globalization, the processes of economic development and reform, and the role of political power in economic policymaking.

Students will acquire both analytical tools and substantive expertise through unique core courses as well as through foundational courses from International Economics and International Politics on economic theory, econometrics, and international political economy. Students will also gain further expertise on specific areas by specializing in subsequent courses. All students, finally, will apply analytical tools to a particular topic of interest by writing a senior thesis.

Objectives of the Major 

Substantively, International Political Economy analyzes how international and domestic political factors interact with economic factors to determine outcomes in a wide variety of areas. The scope of inquiry ranges from mature capitalist countries, to developing economies to nations making transitions to capitalist systems. In all cases, the focus is on issues that cannot be properly understood without insights gained from both international economics and international politics. This requires an understanding of the methods and principal issues animating the areas in which these fields intersect.

To do this, students will learn:

  • Quantitative and qualitative methods to make causal inferences regarding political-economic phenomena
  • The ways in which states and state-institutions help or hinder economic prosperity
  • How collective action in the presence of conflicting private interests can shape legislation, elections, and policy
  • The nature of unilateral and multilateral factors shaping international trade, finance, and aid.
  • Original research and writing that identifies a puzzle, derives testable hypotheses, selects appropriate methodologies, gathers empirical evidence, and offers conclusions.
Honors in the Major 

Students can earn Honors in the IPEC Major by submitting a letter of intent during the junior year, writing an honors quality thesis based on original research during the senior year, earning an A grade in the Senior Seminar, earning a major GPA of at least 3.67, and earning a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 (Class of 2014 remains at the 3.33 threshold).