Global Political Economy: Glossary (Part 4) O-S

Offshore Banking: Offshore banking units are concentrated in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Panama, and Singapore. They can also refer to Swiss Banks and banks in Luxembourg and Andorra. An offshore bank is simply one located outside the country of the depositor. It is usually in a low tax jurisdiction, that is, a tax haven. These banks may provide bank secrecy, low or no taxation, easy access to deposits, and protection from local political or financial instability. It has been estimated that half of the world’s capital may flow through offshore banks. These tax havens have 1.2 percent of the world’s population and 26 percent of the world’s wealth. They have some 31percent of the net profits of US multinational corporations. It has been estimated that some 13 to 20 trillion pounds sterling may be hidden in such tax havens. According to the World Wealth Report of 2010, one third of the wealth of the highest worth individuals, some six trillion dollars, may be held offshore.

Oligopoly: A market situation where a small number of large companies control the market for a commodity. This may allow companies to be price setters and keep profits high.

Oligopsony: Refers to a market in which there are many sellers but few buyers.

Opportunity Costs: The opportunity cost is the benefits that one must give up in order to engage in an alternative activity. For example, the income one would have to give up to take a long holiday.

Pareto Optimality: A pattern of resource distribution in which no one can be made better off without making someone worse off.

Partial Equilibrium Analysis: A type of analysis which examines equilibrium in one of more specific markets, without looking at the entire economy.

Path Dependence: In economics, decisions and patterns are frequently limited or determined by decisions which have been made in the past. For example, a particular technology is established and is put on the market. Once it becomes established, future versions may follow the same technology even though this is not the best possible technology. An example frequently given is the Microsoft operating system which became the dominant technology, even though it is not the best one. 

Pegged Currency: A system in which there is a fixed exchange rate between a  currency and gold or some other currency such as the dollar.

Periphery: Political economies, whether national or global, can be seen to be divided into a core and a periphery. The periphery is the outlying region farthest away from the center.

Physiocrats: A school of political economy in France in the Eighteenth Century. Physiocracy means the government of nature. The Physiocrats believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of land and agriculture. They saw productive work as the source of national wealth. They said that all life depends upon the productivity of the soil and the ability of the natural environment to renew itself. They praised country living. Their work is seen to be the first well developed theory of economics. The main figure was Francois Quesnay (1694-1774). Another important figure was Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-1781).

Pigou Effect (Real Balance Effect from Arthur Cecil Pigou): Says that in a recession, the declining prices will increase the wealth of consumers and therefore increase spending.

Planning Commissions: Government economic institutions which were responsible for planning future economic development in countries such as India that developed plans, such as the Five Year Plans, for development. This approach was modeled after the development plans of the Soviet Union.   

Plaza Conference (1985): A conference in which Japan agreed to appreciate the value of the Yen, under US pressure.  

Pluralism: In the American context, pluralism refers to the concept that power is divided between many groups in the society and that their political activity is primarily a matter of each group trying to maximize their gains from the political system.

Portfolio Investment: Refers to investment in the financial sector in such investment assets as securities, stocks, bonds, Repo and so on, rather than in the manufacturing sector. Foreign portfolio investment is risky for emerging market economies as this type of money is essentially hot money. It can leave the country quickly in the case of economic or political instability.

Post-Fordism: Indicates an economy which has made the transition to a post-industrial economy which is dominated by the service sector. In the case of the United States there is a financialization of the economy.

Precariat: A class of people, such as urban poor, who lack secure jobs and economic security. An increasing proportion of the global population in the early twentieth century.

Predatory Pricing: Happens when businesses sell goods or services below the cost of production in order to ruin their competition. For example, large waste companies in the United States frequently sign up people for waste collection at very low rates until their competition is forced out of business. It is analogous to dumping in the international arena.

Preemption: Happens when a firm succeeds in getting its products into the market ahead of other firms. It is also called First Mover Advantage. This may preempt other firms by preventing them from moving into the market for a considerable time during which the initial firm enjoys high profits. 

Price Setters: A situation in which oligopoly firms control the market for a product and are able to keep the prices from falling. That is, they are able to set the price rather than allow the market to set the price. Having a unique product may also enable a firm to be a price setter.   

Price Takers: Price takers are at the mercy of the market and must sell their products at the price which the market or another firm decides.

Principles of Economics (1890): The famous textbook written by British economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924 which went through many editions and was the standard textbook for generations economics students. The textbook deals with theories of supply and demand, marginal utility, costs of production and many other topics. The book is seen as consolidating the ideas of neoclassical economics into a coherent theory. The book was also responsible for changing the name of the discipline from political economy to economics.

Prisoner’s Dilemma: A game which has been analyzed in game theory. The game demonstrates why two individuals might not cooperate, even though it appears that they could benefit by doing so. Two prisoners are arrested and charged with a crime. The prisoners are isolated from each other. Because of lack of evidence, they can be convicted only on a charge that carries a one year sentence. So if neither one gives evidence on the other, they each get a one year sentence. If one remains silent and the other tells, the one who tells goes free and the other gets three years jail. If both of them tell on each other, they both get two years. The rational solution is that both of them defect and tell on the other. But the best solution would be for both of them to remain silent. This is seen to apply to real life situations. In the cold war, the rational solution was to build nuclear weapons. But the best solution for two enemy countries was to cooperate and not build nuclear weapons. The game shows how rational behavior may make one a rational fool. 

Product Cycle Theory (Raymond Vernon): From Raymond Vernon’s book Sovereignty at Bay (1971).  According to this theory, every product follows a cycle from innovation to maturity to the time when it is obsolete. After World War II, American firms had a comparative advantage in innovation because the American market was so large and because the US led in R&D. In the first phase, American products are exported from their US base. Sometime later, the product matures and production techniques become standardized. Foreign firms enter the market as there is technological transfer and a demand for the product. At this point, US firms export the means of production and produce abroad in order to preempt foreign firms. So FDI is a device used to preempt foreign firms from gaining a foothold in the market and allowing American firms to keep their monopoly. This theory helped to explain the behavior of US firms in the l960s.

Profit Seeking Activity: Another term for rent seeking by a coalitional distribution or interest group. If the activity is merely to gain greater benefits without enhancing production, such as in cotton agricultural subsidies in the United States, then the activity is unproductive and unjustified. The term is associated with Mancur Olson and the Virginia School of Public Choice Theory. 

Progressive Taxation:  The policy of taxing high incomes at a higher rate than low incomes.

Public Choice Theory: A theory largely devised by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock in their book The Calculus of Consent (1962). They used economic theories to understand political behavior. These theorists were strongly opposed to government interference in the market.

Quantitative Easing: Another term for printing money. Central banks may have a policy of increasing the money supply with the aim of stimulating economic activity. This was the case following the financial crises in the United States in 2008. Quantitative easing by the United States and Europe tends to flood foreign currencies into emerging markets such as Turkey, where interest rates are higher.

Radical Critique of Political Economy: Radical critique may refer to the work of Karl Marx and others who challenged the approach and assumptions of the mainstream of political economy, such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and John Stuart Mill in the 18th and 19th centuries. After the marginalist revolution in the nineteenth century and the establishment of neoclassical economics by Alfred Marshall and others, radical critique refers to leftist thinkers in the Marxist tradition, who continued to support working class movements and base their economic analysis upon the labor theory of value, rather than the theory of marginal utility. The modern radical critique can be seen in the writings of Paul Sweezy, Harry Magdoff and others at the Monthly Review journal in New York, as well as other left critics of neoclassical economics.

Rational Choice Theory: Rational Choice Theory emerged from the use of methodological individualism to explain all of human behavior. The approach uses economic theory of utility maximization to analyze political behavior. Examples include the work of Anthony Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy in the l950s and Gary Becker in The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (1976). The approach is also used in the Public Choice approach of Mancur Olson. It assumes that people make rational calculations to gain the basic desires of life, including food, prestige, awards, health, wealth and happiness. People are seen to approach life with the selfish and egotistical desires assumed by Thomas Hobbes. To act otherwise, presumably, would be a mistake. Probably a justification for capitalist profit-seeking behavior.

Rational Fools: A term from the political economist, Amartya Sen. While economists emphasize rational decision making by individuals, those rational decisions may also mark individuals as rational fools in terms of the likely outcome. One could relate this to rational profit making activity of corporations, which is swiftly destroying the global environment and so turning out to be quite irrational in a larger sense.

Reading School: The Reading School of Political Economy named after the University of Reading in England. The Reading School associated with John Dunning emphasizes technology as an important factor in the development of multinational corporations as well as the organization of production on a global basis. The theory is seen as eclectic as it borrows ideas from different schools of thought.

Real Economy: The Real Economy refers to the production of goods and services rather than investment in the financial sectors of the economy.

Realism: Realism may refer to state-centric realism which assumes that the international system is anarchic and sees the state as the most important actor. The approach also recognizes the role of international organizations, multinational firms and NGOs in the international arena.

Recession: A sharp downturn in economic activity in a country. In the United States, the technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.

Regime Theory in International Political Economy: A regime is defined by Stephen Krasner as a “set of principles, norms, rules, and decision making procedures” which guide actors, such as the directors of the World Trade Organization. In International political economy, the major approach is the liberal approach which assumes that actors act according to their rational interests and cooperate through international organizations. The realist approach sees states as the main actors in the international political economy and often in conflict with each other.

Regional Monetary Integration: May refer to the process by which the currencies of Western Europe were linked together into an exchange rate mechanism and eventually replaced by a single currency, the Euro. It may also refer to attempts toward monetary integration in North America, South America, East Asia, West Africa and other areas of the world through monetary unions and other forms of monetary cooperation.

Regionalism: A process by which the countries of a region, such as Western Europe cooperate to solve regional problems through such methods as customs unions, free trade areas, single markets, and monetary integration. It may refer to countries in North America, Europe, South America, East Asia, South Asia and elsewhere.

Rent Creation: May refer to activities of a government, such as legislation to create new programs, which results in the establishment of benefits which may then be available for distribution to an interest group. For example, a government may create social welfare benefits which are then distributed throughout the society. This can be contrasted to wealth creation in which new values are created through economic production.

Rent Seeking Behavior: Refers to the activities of coalitional distributions or interest groups which lobby or engage in other types of political activity to secure benefits from the government or public sector. This is seen by public choice theorists to be unproductive as it does not create any wealth but merely consumes resources already created.

Research and Development (R & D): Refers to activities which are aimed at innovation, the creation of new products and the improvement of existing products.

Reserve Army of the Unemployed (Karl Marx): A term Marx used to describe those workers who were unemployed and which capitalists could easily hire at cheap wages to expand production in a short period of time.   

Right to Work Laws (Irving Fisher): Also called open shop laws. This means that workers in a factory cannot be forced to join a labor union established by workers or labor officials in the factory.

The Road to Serfdom (1944): This is a famous book by Frederick Hayek which argued that the social welfare programs of the British Labour party were likely to result in totalitarianism.

Roundabout Production: Production methods which require more machinery and capital and therefore take more time to put into place when a decision has been made to expand production.

Savings: Savings may refer to the part of the national income which is not spent or consumed. In this case, it may result from deferred consumption. Savings in an economy may be related to investment and capital formation as the amount of savings may be made available to use as capital, when deposited in a bank or other investment asset.

Seigniorage: Refers to the special privileges the United States enjoyed during the Bretton Woods period as the provider of the world’s reserve currency, the US dollar. 

Service Sector Economy: A service sector economy is an economy in which the dominant enterprises of the economy are in the service sector. The service sector or tertiary sector includes information, transport, distribution of products, sales, pest control, entertainment, repair, food, hotels, hair solons, tourism and more. More than seventy percent of the work force in the United States is in the service sector.

Shareholder Capitalism (Stockholder Capitalism): The national system of political economy in the United States which is based upon the requirement that firms manage their business in such a way as to maximize profits for their stockholders or shareholders, rather than to serve the general needs of society.

 Smithsonian Agreement (December 1971): An agreement which adjusted the fixed currency exchange rates established at the Bretton Woods Conference in l944. The US dollar’s convertibility into gold was abolished. The dollar was over-valued by the l960s. In February 1973, the dollar was devalued by ten percent. The conference was held in Washington, D.C.

Social Dumping: Refers to a situation in which transnational corporations move manufacturing to countries which lack work standards and pay low salaries and few benefits to workers. Relocating in such countries as Bangladesh, for example to produce cheap clothing for higher profits is an example of social dumping.

Social Market Capitalism: Refers to the national systems of political economy in Western European nations such as Germany. These economies have been characterized by higher levels of social welfare and greater benefits to workers as compared to the United States. The members of society are seen as shareholders, as the companies are supposed to serve the interests of the whole society. 

Special Drawing Rights: A reserve currency created by the IMF in 1969 due to the shortfall in US dollars for international liquidity. The SDR is made up of a basket of currencies of the US dollar, British Sterling, the Euro and the Japanese Yen. As of 2013, there were some 275 billion in SDRs which are owned by the member countries of the IMF. They have served as a unit of account for the IMF and before 1981 were mainly seen as a form of credit. Countries are expected to maintain their SDR holdings at a given level. The SDR is sometimes seen as a source of credit for developing countries. They are not seen as very important in providing liquidity, however, as they make up only about four percent of global forex reserve assets.

Specie flow mechanism (David Hume): An analysis of the international flow of money which measures the effect upon an economy, including prices and the value of the currency. Hume observed that exports from a country would cause the value of the currency to rise, raising prices and having a negative effect on exports.

Speculative Mania: A phenomena which happens when investors rush to invest in a particular area of the economy, such as stocks or housing. The market may overheat creating a bubble which is likely to burst when investors start to become skeptical that the market will continue to rise. There is then a stampede of investors to get out of the market as quickly as possible.

Stagflation: A term used by a Conservative member of Parliament in the UK in a speech in l965. Lain Macleod warned that the economy was suffering from both high inflation and high unemployment.  This phenomenon was seen in the US economy beginning in the l960s. Unemployment remained high even when there was considerable inflation in the US economy. Some economists believed that the situation could be corrected by applying the proper monetary policies.

Stagnation: Stagnation in an economy happens when the rate of economic growth slows down and economic recovery is difficult to achieve.

Stakeholder Capitalism: Stakeholder capitalism can refer to the national system of social market capitalism in some European states, such as Germany. Members of society are seen to be stakeholders as they have an interest in the economic outcome in terms of their social welfare and quality of life.   

State-Centric Realism: A view of global political economy in which the state is seen as the primary actor in the international economic arena. International organizations are seen as having a secondary importance.

Steady State Economy: A steady-state economy may refer to the economic growth model of Robert Solow. In this model, the economy reaches a steady state when investment is equal to depreciation and is said to be in equilibrium. Knowledge is seen as an exogenous variable.

Stockholder Capitalism: The name applied to the national system of political economy in the United States which is based upon the requirement that firms manage their business in such a way as to maximize profits for their stockholders, rather than to serve the general needs of society.

Stolper-Samuelson Theorem: Says that international trade will tend to benefit those who own the abundant factor (capital or labor) and hurt those who own the scarce factor. Over time there will be a redistribution of value to either labor or capital. In a developing country, labor will benefit most. In a developed country, capital will benefit most.

Strategic Behavior: Strategic behavior in economics is a broad term which could apply to both firms and governments. In order to be successful, a firm must develop a strategy to manage the firm optimally and meet specific goals, most importantly making acceptable profits for its owners and stockholders. The production of cutting edge profits might be part of this strategy. For governments, strategic behavior can involve economic policies which promote domestic firms in the domestic and international environments.

Strategic Management: Strategic management involves the operation of a firm to meet specific objectives. It primarily involves responding to external issues outside the company, such as understanding the customers’ needs and responding to competitive forces. There is a need to continuously adapt to the changing external environment. Strategic management provides overall directions to an enterprise. There are a number of models of strategic management.

Strategic Trade Theory: Strategic Trade Theory argues that countries can increase international trade, particularly exports, by implementing specific policies. For example, Japan was able to capture a large share of the US market in electronics and automobiles in the l960s and 1970s by such policies as government support to oligopolistic industries, producing quality products at low cost, producing niche products, and supporting domestic firms even when they did not make a profit.   

Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP): Structural Adjustment Programs are economic reform policies administered by the IMF as requirements for obtaining a loan from the IMF. These policies usually involve the implementation of austerity packages. They may require large scale privatization of state owned enterprises, cutbacks in government employment, cutbacks in education, cutbacks in health, cutbacks in social welfare, banking reforms, decreases in government subsidies, and other such policies.

Structural Investment Vehicle (SIV): A financial instruments which earns a profit by producing nothing. The SIV was invented by Citigroup in 1988. The market in SIVs collapsed in 2008 with the financial crises. Money is made by borrowing money on short and medium term notes such as securities, commercial paper, and public bonds, at low interest. This money is then used to buy longer term securities that pay higher interest, such as mortgages, bonds, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards. The net credit spread produces profits for the investors. The amount of SIVs reached 400 billion dollars in 2008, but then the market collapsed.

Subprime Mortgage: A subprime Mortgage is one which is held by a borrower with a lower credit rating than a borrower with a conventional mortgage. Since the risk is greater in such lending, the interest rate is generally higher. Over-lending in the subprime market helped to produce the financial crisis in the United States in 2008. 

Subsistence Economies: A subsistence economy is one in which food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs are supplied through nature, such as through hunting and gathering and agriculture in which that which is produced is consumed by individual families or small groups and does not enter the market. Trade in such an economy would be carried out through barter as money is absent.

Subsistence Theory of Wages:  A principle held by classical political economists which says that wages will fall to the point in which the wage only allows the worker to survive.

Supply Side Economics: A right-wing conservative approach to economic policy. Supply side advocates argue that economic growth can best be increased by such policies as a lower income tax, a lower capital gains tax, and by reducing government regulations on firms. They argue that consumers will benefit from the greater supply of goods which result. It is the opposite of demand side economics. 

Surplus Value (Karl Marx): The source of profits for Karl Marx. When the worker works longer than is necessary to produce his cost of living, the additional part of the day is surplus labor for which the capitalist does not pay. This surplus labor produces surplus value for the capitalist.   

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