Book Review: Economia Politica Globale

John Ravenhill, (Italian edition by Giuseppe Gabusi), Economia Politica Globale (Milan, Italy: Guerini Editore, 2013). 451 pp., €32,50 (paperback), ISBN: 9788881073368.

The book is the Italian translation of an international political economy (IPE) handbook edited by John Ravenhill and published by Oxford University Press. Published in January 2014 in its fourth edition, the book contains a collection of essays from a number of distinguished scholars in the field of IPE, covering several important theoretical and empirical issues that drive the research agenda of the discipline.

In the introduction of the Italian version, Giuseppe Gabusi, who supported and edited the translation, articulates the reason behind the decision to translate the book, which is edited by John Ravenhill. In particular, Gabusi reflects on the recent global financial crisis and how the crisis has shaken our belief in the international economic system being a pillar of growth. In this light, the IPE toolkit developed over the past two decades can help us examine what went wrong in the global economy and what political and economic challenges lie ahead. Given that the Italian scholarship has only been marginally exposed to IPE thus far, a point highlighted by Gabusi, the translation of this book is a first step towards elevating IPE to the center of scholarly and public debate.

It is worth noting that the book is aptly titled Global Political Economy (GPE) and not International Political Economy. This is not an accident but a clear attempt to link the IPE scholarly debate to real world problems. In other words, Ravenhill’s book is explicitly intended to speak to an audience that is larger than the one provided by IPE scholars by reaching those that have an interest in understanding the political issues that surround the organization of the global economy. Furthermore, the book, probably more than any other handbook on this subject, is explicitly tailored for students. This is further attested by the wealth of supporting teaching material that OUP provides through its online platform.

The book is divided into four main sections. The first section introduces the reader to the major theoretical debates in IPE. The remaining sections deal with more substantive issues by exploring the research agenda in trade, finance, and globalization.

In the first section, Ravenhill sets the tone by discussing the distinctive features of IPE. In this respect, Ravenhill clearly places IPE within the larger political science scholarship. As he writes, “Like other branches of the discipline, GPE seeks to answer the classic questions posed in Harold D. Lasswell’s (1936) definition of politics: who gets what, when, and how?” (Ravenhill, Chapter 1, 4th edition, p.19). At the same time, as Gabusi argues in the introduction, IPE/GPE is explicitly intended to build a bridge between political science (that revolves around questions of power and distribution) and the economics science (that revolve around questions of wealth). The “mutual neglect” of the two sciences, as Susan Strange has already noted in the 1970s, impairs scholarly capacity to read about the most important challenges of our time. The first section also discusses various approaches to the study of IPE going beyond the conventional division of liberalism, nationalism, and Marxism (Watson’s chapter) and examines the factors that support (or hinder) international economic cooperation (Aggarwal/Dupont’s chapter), paying particular attention to domestic determinants (Hiscox’s chapter).

The second section of the book focuses on the evolution of trade relations, first at the global level (Winham’s chapter) and then at the regional level (Ravenhill’s chapter). The third section of the books shifts attention from trade to finance. To begin with, it examines the global financial regime since 1944 (Helleiner’s chapter). Subsequently, Louis Pauly’s chapter reflects on the reasons that hinder international financial cooperation in light of the failures brought to the surface by the recent crisis.

The last section of the book addresses various issues regarding the debates about globalization. First, the book reflects on the concept of globalization and assesses the extent to which today’s globalized economy is different—and in what respects—from previous eras of economic interdependence (McGrew’s chapter). Four substantive contributions follow. Specifically, the chapters examine the consequences of economic integration, from the policy options available to domestic political authorities (Hay’s chapter); the role of international production networks in driving globalization (Thun’s chapter); and the impact of globalization on inequality and development in developing economies (Wade and Phillip’s chapters, respectively).

As this overview reveals, IPE/GPE research agenda spans across some of the most pressing problems confronting the world today. In the introduction of the Italian version, Gabusi draws attention to two problems that are only implicitly addressed in Ravenhill’s book: the implications of the recent financial crisis for growth and political stability, and China’s rise to the top of the international economic hierarchy. These are exactly the types of problems, Gabusi argues, where IPE can provide an invaluable analytical toolkit. The need for IPE is further attested by a wave of handbooks sponsored by several international publishers over the past few years. These include Routledge’s 2009 IPE as a Global Conversation (edited by Mark Blyth) and 2013 Handbook of Global Economic Governance (edited by Manuela Moschella and Catherine Weaver); Palgrave’s 2014 Issues and Actors in the Global Political Economy (by Andre Broome); and Edward Elgar’s 2014 The Handbook of the International Political Economy of Governance (edited by Tony Payne and Nicola Phillips) and Advanced Introduction to International Political Economy (by Benjamin Cohen). Among these books, Ravenhill’s Global Political Economy, which was first published in 2005, is a precursor and a point of reference for the most recent scholarship. Gabusi made a wise decision to edit the Italian translation of the book as it makes an important contribution to the diffusion of IPE in Italy.

Manuela Moschella, University of Turin

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