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Back Cover Blurb: "Matthew Watson analyses the political response to imploding markets through the lens of the history of economic thought, asking 'what has gone wrong with economics?' against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The most important historical trend, he suggests, is the development of an 'uneconomic economics', whereby attention is placed on explaining relationships in perfectly efficient blackboard markets rather than the much more chaotic institutions encountered in everyday economic interactions. Economists now routinely devise sophisticated abstract models which are theoretically rigorous but fail to capture the way everyday economic decisions are actually undertaken. Acknowledging the gap between the model world and the real world led many commentators to initially pronounce that the financial crisis was equally a crisis of economics. Watson shows, though, that the subsequent redefinition of the crisis as a problem of over-extended state spending has successfully rehabilitated the model world of orthodox economics opinion."
"To control the forces shaping our economic future, we have first to understand those shaping our immediate past. Mainstream economics claims to do that, but as this important book shows, that claim is false. Matthew Watson has written an invaluable guide to the limits of orthodox economics thinking on the 2007/8 financial crisis. It is a guide that, if read widely, will help sustain an informed citizenry on both sides of the Atlantic. Ideas matter, and the ideas discussed here matter more than most." - Professor David Coates, Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies, Wake Forest University, US.
"Matthew Watson's elegant and trenchant analysis shines a fiercely critical and deeply scholarly light on the profound relationship between the practices of financial markets, the modes of thought typical of orthodox economics and post-crisis policy thinking. Written with admirable clarity and concision, it stands as one of the very best - and certainly one of the most important - books yet written on the global financial crisis." - Professor Ben Rosamond, Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Title: 'The Great Transformation and Progressive Possibilities: The Political Limits of Polanyi's Marxian History of Economic Ideas', Economy and Society, 43 (4), 2014, 603-625. This article is available in full open access. Despite only being published in the final issue of the year, this article was featured on Routledge's Most Read website, which provided access to the three most downloaded papers from each of its social science journals for 2014.
Abstract: Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation remains one of the stand-out texts of twentieth-century political economy, yet it contains important conceptual ambiguities. Perhaps most significantly, the later chapters reveal the influence of his own notion of an ‘always embedded economy’, but the earlier chapters are constructed around a much more abstract conception of ‘economy’ derived from an essentially Marxian history of economic ideas. Marx worked within the basic Ricardian conception of economy as a method of immanent critique, but then proceeded to also project it backwards onto pre-Ricardian traditions of economics. Polanyi did likewise, I argue, consequently missing the opportunity to connect his own notion of an always embedded economy to pre-Ricardian studies of the substantive basis of functioning economic relations. I use the following pages to try to restore one such link, in this instance to Adam Smith’s account of the moral ‘sympathy’ underpinning the process of market coordination. This reconstruction also has implications for progressive political possibilities today. Polanyian responses to the ongoing crisis have tended to be framed by the basic Ricardian conception of economy and have accordingly been restricted to a discussion of more market or less, more austerity or less. By contrast, tracing the lineage from pre-Ricardian concerns to Polanyi’s notion of an always embedded economy allows the much more potentially radical question to be asked of what sort of economic relations best serve essential human needs.
Title: 'Re-Establishing What Went Wrong Before: The Greenspan Put as Macroeconomic Modellers' New Normal', Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 7 (July), 2014, 80-101. This article is available in full open access.
Abstract: Almost a decade after his retirement Alan Greenspan remains the world's most immediately recognisable and highest profile central banker. His opinions therefore still matter, even if it is no longer his decisions that move markets. This article reviews Greenspan's ostensible move away from efficient markets theorising as he has tried to come to terms with the patterns of 'euphoria' and 'fear' he believes explain the build-up to the global financial crisis. In truth, though, it looks much more like an attempt to rescue the reputation of his free market models in the face of an increasing number of sceptics. Greenspan's new memoire fails to acknowledge what, in effect, was the free put option the Federal Reserve provided to Wall Street traders under his leadership. Indeed, it goes as far as to promote a visualisation technique for how macroeconomic modellers should view the basic structure of the market environment which treats the now increasingly infamous 'Greenspan put' as an ostensibly formal component of asset prices. The style of policy-making that helped to stoke such extreme asset price inflation prior to the crisis is now embedded (i) within the class of models that Greenspan has presented as the post-crisis antidote to efficient markets theorising and (ii) within the recent historical data being used in the calibration tests of the models' efficacy. What macroeconomic modellers can see in the market environment when embracing the supposedly new reality of euphoria and fear is a manifestation of what the prior existence of the Greenspan put first brought into view.
Title: 'Historicising Ricardo's Comparative Advantage Theory, Challenging the Normative Foundations of Liberal IPE', New Political Economy, 22 (3), 2017, 257-272. This article is available in full open access.
Abstract: David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade. It also continues to provide the underlying economic ethic for liberal IPE. Ricardo’s numerical illustration of the mutually shared gains from specialisation and trade involved complementary structures of comparative advantage being exhibited by a productively superior hypothetical 'Portugal' and a productively inferior hypothetical 'England'. Yet the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the two countries reveals Portugal’s repeated struggles to meet its treaty obligations to the English in the context of the European quest for empire. Those difficulties persisted even when it harnessed its (less profitable) commercial trade to (much more profitable) slave trading practices. Ricardo’s account of the purely mathematical logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality of both imperial wars and African slavery to the early English and Portuguese experience of 'free' trade. Given this historical back-story, liberal IPE thus appears to be in urgent need of new normative foundations to decouple it from these highly illiberal economic processes.
Title: 'Rousseau's Crusoe Myth: The Unlikely Provenance of the Neoclassical Homo Economicus', Journal of Cultural Economy, 10 (1), 2017, 81-96. This article is available in full open access.
Abstract: The neoclassical homo economicus has escaped the narrow confines of economic theory and is today embodied countless times over in the everyday behaviour that so much of the modern economy is set up precisely to serve. Not all of the authors of leading books on economic principles have named the neoclassical homo economicus, but when they have done so it is overwhelmingly in the same way. They have given him the human form of a Robinson Crusoe figure, despite the fact that his behavioural motivations and his practical conduct owe next-to-nothing to Daniel Defoe's original characterisation. I suggest that the route to today's cultural familiarity with the neoclassical homo economicus instead passes through the entirely unwitting hands of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He substituted Defoe's account of the castaway's continuing deference to prevailing social norms with his own idealised vision of how the individual might use solitude to escape the corrupting influences of modern society. It is altogether another desocialised individual also bearing the Crusoe name who has latterly shaped many of the economics textbooks' renderings of the neoclassical homo economicus. However, we can get to him only by first understanding the essential features of Rousseau's Crusoe myth.
Title: 'George Osborne's Machonomics', British Politics, 12 (4), 2017, 536-554. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-017-0059-3. A view-only version of the full text is available from Springer Nature's Shared It function.
Abstract: Feminist scholars have described the behavioural traits that have flourished within the global economy in terms of a hegemonic ‘I know best’ masculinity. Whilst this literature has typically focused on a small number of business leaders around whom popular myths of wealth creation have developed, the same way of thinking might also be applied to policy-makers. At the very least, this study of George Osborne’s time as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals how consistently he adopted the mantle of an omniscient hegemonic masculine subject in his approach to deficit reduction. It was an attitude to the task at hand I label ‘machonomics’. This concept is designed to mean more than that the outcomes of his austerity programme disproportionately disadvantaged women. It also captures the type of policy-maker that Osborne tried so hard to convince others he was. His self-projection finds a parallel, I argue, in what the macroeconomic theory literature describes as the specifically ‘conservative policy-maker’, someone reputed for trusting his own judgement even in the face of widespread dissent against his anti-social policies. The conservative policy-maker exudes the hegemonic masculinity that Osborne embodied in his refusal to voice opinions in public suggesting that there were viable alternatives to painful public expenditure cuts.
Title: 'Brexit, the Left Behind and the Let Down: The Political Abstraction of 'the Economy' and the UK's EU Referendum', British Politics, DOI: 10.1057/s41293-017-0062-8. This article was published online on 07.11.2017. A view-only version of the full text is available from Springer Nature's Shared It function.
Abstract: UK voters' decision to overturn the country's European Union membership has left most parliamentarians looking rather distant from the constituents they represent. The politicians staked much on assuming that people would not vote to sabotage their economic self-interest, but this message conspicuously failed to resonate. When politicians spoke in abstract terms about the needs of 'the economy', significant numbers understood this to mean labour market conditions that have personally served them badly. It has been commonplace since the referendum to refer to these people as the 'left behind'. However, they might more usefully be descrbed as the 'let down'. Since the restructuring of the UK economy in line with global competitiveness norms they have been required to earn their rights as citizens through demonstrating their work readiness. Yet hard work on its own is now no longer sufficient for so many people to receive the rewards promised under the terms of the new social contract. They have been largely abandoned to their fate by the politicians as labour market segmentation has led to a significant expansion of the in-work poor. These people voted in large numbers against continued EU membership. This suggests that the referendum result can be seen at least in part as a revolt against the way in which the abstraction of 'the economy' has informed UK politics in recent decades.
Title: 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks', New Political Economy, notification of acceptance letter received, 05.12.2017. DOI 10.1080/13563467.2017.1417367.
Abstract: 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers necessarily evoke a world of racialised hierarchies. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium to simply wish away their resulting relations of power. These are the teaching aids that inspire students analytically to think of markets as pristine economic institutions and persuade them politically that they should want to will such institutions into being. Yet they all-too-often rely on the pedagogical device of the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy, where the main characters from Defoe's most famous novel are required to instinctively recognise their equality within voluntary contracting agreements so that each can act as the neoclassical homo economicus. In other words, economists' Crusoe and Friday figures must behave antithetically to what has historically been implied by the 'Cruose' and 'Friday' signifiers. But how can this be so, given how commonplace it was when Defoe's characters were first introduced into economic theory in the 1850s to justify white settler colonialism on the grounds that 'savage' societies lacked the capacity to be self-governing? The raced market frame that emerged in practice from this assumption continues to be reproduced uncritically today by Crusoe's and Friday's presence in the textbook explanation of the most basic model of market exchange.
Extract from text: My main concern is what happens to Hay and Payne's carefully thought-through reform agenda [for a Civic Capitalism] if the object of that reform is not as they specify it. The reader learns much about what it would take to promote a distinctly civic variant of capitalism, and the resulting vision is certainly one in which an increasingly civilized tone will be struck in the relationship between one person and another, as well as between people and nature. An instinct to care is being promoted, one where voluntary acquiescence to the new norm would be the first-best option but where behavioural change through legal statute is a more than acceptable second best. However, halting the advance of market ideology cannot be relied upon, on its own, to civilize everyday economic relations. I do worry that the economic structures of contemporary British capitalism do not look like those of the classical market stereotype and that this might make access to the civic mission very difficult indeed.
Extract from text: For anyone who is returning to [Casino Capitalism] for the first time in a number of years, it is a delight to be reacquainted with the nuance of a historical perspective that emphasises the significance of decisions that could have been taken but were not just as much as the decisions that were actually taken (pp.47-58). History thus comes alive as a highly politicised lens in Strange’s hands through the analysis of alternatives that were available but were overlooked simply because they did not fit the prevailing political mentality. For anyone coming to this work for the first time, there will consequently by many moments of revelation. Even though a self-consciously theoretical voice was so often written out of Strange’s work, younger generations of IPE scholars will find on repeated occasions that her texts speak to them in a language that helps to confirm their own subsequent theoretical choices. Strange’s ‘amateur history’ thus pre-empts a good deal of IPE’s future, in its concern for both the way in which the financial system was becoming a repository for political power and for how this made more and more people susceptible in their everyday lives to the whims of financial market pricing dynamics.