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International Trade and Political Institutions

Instituting Trade in the Long Nineteenth Century

Fiona McGillivay, Iain McLean, Robert Pahre and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey

International Trade and Political Institutions broadens the public choice theory of trade politics to allow for the study of ideas and institutions within a longer time horizon. The authors use theoretically rigorous historical analysis of international political economy and four important case studies to help untangle the role of ideology, institutions and interests. This illuminating book connects the fields of economics, political economy and history to shed new light on trade theory.
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Chapter 6: A Unifying Theory of Interests, Institutions and Ideas? Concluding Remarks

Fiona McGillivay, Iain McLean, Robert Pahre and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey


Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey Few, if any, political scientists would disagree with the basic premise of this book – namely, that interests, institutions and ideas or ideology all matter for understanding political outcomes. A fundamental source of disagreement, however, lies in the weights assigned to these factors and the linkages that are said to exist between them. Without question, interests-based explanations have prevailed as the dominant paradigm in political science since the 1960s. Yet in the past few decades, scholars have become increasingly dissatisfied with the simple rationality assumption that underpins most interests-based explanations of political outcomes. It is not that rationality fails to provide a useful premise upon which to theorize – it certainly does – but that exceptions to and deviations from rational behaviour have encouraged political scientists to explore the conditions under which preferences are formed and the mechanisms (both formal and informal) by which these preferences evolve into observable political outcomes.1 Institutions thus become attractive for understanding both how preferences form and the context in which these preferences are channelled into political behaviour. In the words of one author, ‘(s)tanding at the intersection of political inputs and outputs, political institutions represent the “black box” of politics through which societal interests are translated into policies and political outcomes’ (Remmer, 1997: 60). And so, by unpacking the institutional ‘black box’ we may better understand why some interests prevail and others do not. Similarly, ideas and ideology are useful for understanding how preferences deviate from what a simple interests-based model may predict,...

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