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Timothy J. Sinclair

Associate Professor of International Political Economy

BA and MA (Hons.) (Canterbury, New Zealand) Ph.D (York, Toronto) D.Litt (Warwick)

Advice and feedback hours online via MS Teams: Term 1: Tuesday & Thursday 1.30-2.30 pm. October 26: 1.30-2 pm only.

No advice and feedback hours in reading weeks or university vacations. Email me at any time.

Haere mai - Welcome

I am a world leader in research on the political economy of money and finance. See my Google Scholar profile of citations. My work is focused mainly on the major bond rating agencies, Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch, founding the social science literature on the agencies with an article in the premiere issue of Review of International Political Economy, and the first research monograph on the agencies, published by Cornell University Press, in the Cornell Studies in Political Economy series in 2005. Here is a talk I gave at Oxford University on my research. My second volume on the rating agencies, To the Brink of Destruction: America's Rating Agencies and Financial Crisis, published in 2021, focuses on their role in the global financial crisis and their perseverance in the aftermath. It is published in the Cornell Studies in Money series. In addition, I have also published The Problem with Banks, co-authored with Lena Rethel, (Zed Books-Bloomsbury, 2012) and Global Governance (Polity 2012).

What I do

I think politically about what are generally assumed to be purely economic or technical matters. See the interview with me in Theory Talks. I investigate things, people, history and institutions. Then I postulate the existence of mechanisms which must exist for the phenomena I am interested in to assume the forms they do. The phenomena may be structural (say, the growth of capital markets) or collective (witch hunts; bank runs; financial panics). I call my way of thinking a social foundations approach to the politics of global finance. Here is a statement by me from a book that includes analysis of my approach. My findings support the view that politics - broadly conceived - infuses the institutions and processes normally thought to comprise 'the economy.'

Influences on me

I have read widely in the classic writings on the political economy of capitalism, its emergence, forms, and problems. Karl Polanyi called this approach to material life substantive. He contrasted this with formalism, which he thought was preoccupied with identifying and measuring spurious law-like behaviour in markets, asserted irrespective of time or place. Much of contemporary social science can be characterised as formalism, and is therefore, in my view, fundamentally flawed.

Scholars who have influenced me include, Peter J. Katzenstein, Raymond (Bud) Duvall, Benjamin J. Cohen, Jeffry Frieden, James W. Lamare, R.P.G. 'Rob' Steven (1944-2001), Cary J. Nederman, James N. Rosenau (1924-2011), Eric Helleiner, Stephen R. Gill, Susan Strange (1923-1998) and Robert W. Cox (1926-2018). On Robert W. Cox, see this memorial panel recorded at the 2019 ISA meeting in Toronto.

At Warwick, my approach to scholarship and what we do in universities has been influenced by senior colleagues who were in the department when I came to England in 1995, especially Jim Bulpitt (1937-1999), Zig Layton-Henry (1942-2020), Roger Duclaud-Williams (1943-2012), Peter Burnell, Shirin Rai, Andrew Reeve and - most importantly - Peter Burnham. Through watching them work, I have become an advocate of the English approach to politics, combining political philosophy, history, and the close study of institutions.

My commitments

I am interested in the use of counterfactuals, the historicist approach of Robert W. Cox, and the significance of collectively held ideas as the basis of social action, especially the thinking of John Searle and John Maynard Keynes. Although I have no regional or country focus I have largely been concerned with rich country issues because of their global hegemonic significance. I am increasingly interested in emerging market problems, to the extent that these too are of global relevance.

My research and writing

My political science research is concentrated in the field of international relations and the sub-field of international political economy. My work focuses on thinking about puzzles in the politics of global finance, rating and evaluation systems, and emerging concepts of global governance. My interests include the disintermediation of credit and the growth of securitization. By securitization, I follow usage in the financial markets, where the term refers to the transformation of illiquid bank loans and other debts into tradeable securities such as bonds, and the implications of this revolution for the character of the financial system, including the influence of credit rating agencies.

My government service

Before my Ph.D I worked as an official in the New Zealand Treasury on annual public expenditure of US$600 million, and the privatization of a New Zealand Government agency. I wrote Treasury reports on policy proposals to Cabinet from spending departments, drafted correspondence for the Prime Minister David Lange, the Minister of Finance Roger Douglas (and David Caygill after Douglas was sacked by Lange in December 1988) and for the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, Richard Prebble (and others, including Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, after Prebble was sacked), prepared the Parliamentary Estimates of public expenditure for two 'Votes', managed a small privatization process, liaised with the Minister of Finance's office and attended Cabinet committees with my boss and other officials. This service was an intense experience because the Treasury was and remains at the centre of policy-making.

The Ph.D supervision I offer

I am interested in supervising energetic Ph.D candidates working on the politics of global finance, especially the growth of capital markets, the problem of financial regulation and the role of private institutions of market governance; credit rating agencies; private authority and international affairs; theories of global governance; collective ideas and social action; and institutional change and development in market and emerging market societies. Please email me to discuss your ideas.

Timothy Sinclair