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The current article is really focused on political economy as a discipline based on the works of the materialist school of political philosophy. Political Economy and Economics share a great deal of overlap, and there are people who use economics as their theory of political economy.

The section on concepts is largely drawn from, in order, Smith, Ricardo and Marx. Namely, that human activity is based on production, exchange and consumption, and that political activity interacts with market activity.

Part of this is to disentagle all of the arguments over "alternatives" and "radical" literature, by using political economy to connect a wide range of disciplines, such as sociology, legal theory, economics, cultural and anthropological studies into one, more or less, comprehensible article.

What's missing - well, alot.

First, there needs to be linking and description of thinkers from the point of view of political economy. Marx is one, but libertarianism is, if you think about it, a theory of political economy. Different people should contribute sections on the political economy of different view points, to give a broader and more balanced view of the different contending strains of thought.

Second, there needs to be a whole section which links to sociology, which can be roughly described as the study of the relationships between labor and capital, and the effects of those relationships.

Third, there needs to be an essay on the history of political economy, where it draws from and diverges from political philosophy, and how it is used in forming policy.

Archived a lot of old talk to Talk:Political economy/archive - Enchanter - exhaustive debate regarding 'the commons' etc. which is mostly relevant to the old text.

I rewrote the first paragraph, although I realize it will be improved by others. My main concern is that it is too simplistic to equate economics with PE. There is an important and interesting relationship and the article should do full justice to it, but even if many economists use "economics" and "political economy" interchangably -- do they really? I didn't think so. -- the first paragraph needs to do more to signal diffferent usage and the context in which these different uses occur. This is what I tried to do. Slrubenstein

If you take a course (at least in the US) called "political economy" in a political science department, and a course called "political economy" in an anthropology department, the two courses will likely have NOTHING in common (except perhaps at a level so abstract as to be meaningless). I think a good article on PE would explain both why these two courses would be so different, and why they would both have the same name. Slrubenstein

You are right, the article does need to make this clear. The term 'political economy' is used by different people to mean different things. I do think however that most often, political economy is basically another word for economics with slightly different connotations, and the article should make this clear. My evidence for this:
  • The term economics was not invented until about 1870, and did not catch on until much later, andll work corresponding to modern economics done in this time would have been described as political economy.
  • In the titles of many journals (eg Journal of Political Economy) and degree courses (I have a degree in "political economy" from a UK university) political economy is used as a synonym for economics.
isn't the field of economics itself a lot broader in the uk though? seems most of this w:social capital theory comes from the UK, for instance.
  • The New Palgrave dictionary of economics has a detailed discussion of the differences in usage between the two terms, concluding that the difference is minor.
a 'dictionary of economics' is hardly going to say 'economics is bunk and you have to look at this political stuff to really understand anything'. They are not going to send students to radical non-orthodox literature, for instance.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica makes do with a two paragraph article on economics, which basically just says political economy is another word for economics.
I think that generally political economy covers the same subject matter as economics, and should therefore be discussed in the same articles. Most of what is in the current article is from a (slightly ideosyncratic) marxist inspired analysis, and should properly belong in an article titled perhaps marxist economics or marxist political economy. This article needs a lot of work, it's hard to understand, and includes some blatant errors - I'll have a go at it sometime... Enchanter 04:46 Aug 3, 2002 (PDT)
seems these comments refer to 24's original article, and 24 did write a fair number of articles on Marxist and Green and Libertarian theory. Did he have a bias towards any one of them? If so, why is his article on capitalism still more or less intact? Any why is it 'Marxist' to suggest economics is rigged? Greens and Libertarians both say that, and so do public choice theory types like Buchanan.

By the way, in my own opinion the bulk of the article -- all those short sections later on -- is a mess: extremely poorly written, unclear, perhaps biased, uninformative, maybe misleading. Slrubenstein

Unfortunately still true Enchanter 04:46 Aug 3, 2002 (PDT)
unclear whether you refer to the original article, now entirely gone, or the new one that emphasizes 'public choice theory' - since SR and 24 agreed on some points re: the commons, those are now mentioned in the article, but if anything it's now biased towards Buchanan, just as 24's article was biased towards Hawken Lovins Lovins. Perhaps 24's approach of looking for a common list of issues investigated by all the variant schools of economics was right, and it was just a writing problem? This 'safety, fairness, closure' stuff deserves some more investigation, it seems right to say that this is what people are concerned with when they open up the non-orthodox economic can of worms, but it seems wrong to say (as 24 did) that political economy just 'is' the study of these three things. Anyway, whoever wants to handle this next, PLEASE READ EVERYTHING INCLUDING THE OLD TALK AND 24'S OLD ARTICLE, just to be sure you 'get it'. No point going through this whole 'vicious cycle' again. I'm done with this!

I removed this to talk, because it is unclear:

Often it is an alternative name for economics, particularly favoured by radical schools of thought and those founded on the ideas of classical economists such as David Ricardo and Karl Marx.
Yes - identifying political economy with Marx and Ricardo probably is vague, and I'm happy to leave that out. Enchanter

Most people I know of do not use PE as a synonym for Economics. But I am sure you are right that there are some -- but to identify those people as followers of Ricardo and Marx is just too vague and broad. Who, exactly, uses PE today as a synonym for Economics? Slrubenstein

Enchanter, I reverted to delete the comment that it is often used as a synonym for economics. I just have never heard anyone do that. If you are right, that some people use it as a synonym for economics today, then you have to say who. That's all I am asking. Something like "Some people, especially..." or "Some people, such as ..." (use the term as a synonym for economics). But I have worked in several universities, and have known a number of economists, and none of them ever identified themselves or their department as "Political economy." So it is not a universal and maybe not even a common practice. I really don't mean to censor you, but if you insist on including this in the article, back it up or provide some specificity. Don't you agree that specificity (who uses the term this way) would be more informative and more educational to the readers of an encyclopedia article? Slrubenstein

On the question of who uses economics as a synonym for economics - it really is a lot of people! To reiterate what I said in talk a while back, plenty of sources do give political economy as an alternative name for economics. For example, the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics devotes hundreds of words to discussing the origins and usage of the words political economy, and concludes that usually political economy is a synonym for economics. The Encyclopaedia Britannica comes to the same conclusion, and political economy in the title of journals (eg the Journal of Political Economy) and degree courses often use political economy and economics to mean the same thing. When I studied economics at university (at a UK university), the course was called "political economy" and the terms were almost always used interchangeably.
As an example of what I'm concerned about, you wrote '"International political economy" is a branch of economics that is concerned with international trade and finance, and state policies that affect international trade such as monetary and fiscal policy.' As far as I can tell, that description could equally well describe "International economics". People who describe it as "International political economy" might well have a different approach and emphasise different aspects of the subject, but fundamentally I think they are talking about the same thing.
I agree it would be useful to say who uses economics and political economy as synonymns and who doesn't. At the moment I don't have the understanding to do that, because all of the people I know do use the terms to mean the same thing (even if they prefer one to the other for various reasons). I would be interested in your views about what the differences would be in, say, a university course on "political economy" and "economics" (in the US, particularly). What would be the actual content of these courses? How would they overlap; would one be a subset of the other? This kind of thing might be a useful addition to the article.
I'm convinced that political economy does often mean the same as economics - often enough for that to deserve a major place in the article. Having said that, I also recognise there are other usages that I'm less familiar with, so I appreciate your input. It may be that there are differences in usage between the UK and US - I'm in the UK, and most (though not all) of my sources were UK based. That may help to explain the differences in how we understand the term.

Well I think we are on the right track. In the US most programs that identify themselves as "Political Economy" are explicitly interdisciplinary and draw on courses from both Economics and Political Science. I wouldn't go by other encyclopedias, I would go by how different departments actually identify themselves. If you have time, do a little more research and by all means add the information to the article. Slrubenstein

(Written before SLR's last comment, posted via edit conflict.) Enchanter has this one right, SLR - which doesn't make you wrong! I think it must be a regional thing - that same old US vs International usage thing we stumble on all the time. The original term for what we now think of as "economics" is "political economy". JS Mill, for example, was a "political economist", not an "economist". The term "economics" came into vouge later.

There are two or three threads to follow here:

  • The study of national and industial policy became more specialised, particularly through the 19th C and into the early 20th C; one branch of it (what we now call "economics") became more narrowly focused on wealth creation and distribution, leaving the broader questions of social & political organisation aside. (Obviously, these broader questions still remained alive: various of them are addressed these days by disciplines known as "sociology", "political science", "anthropology", and so on.)
  • The terms changed to match: in particular, "political economy" fell out of favour and was replaced by "economics". My Shorter Oxford dates the first use of "economist" in the sense of a student of political economy to 1804. I'm not sure when it became the standard term, rather than a variant usage, but I'd guess the late 19th C, possibly even early 20th. Prior to this, "economy" meant "frugality". You can see the sense of the way the words changed: first "politics" gained "economy" to indicate the political science of good, frugal management of productive activity and thus became "political economy". Then, afer this term became common and accepted, and the meaning of "economy" had been extended to indicate production and distribution of goods rather than just frugality, it was possible to drop the "political" part.
  • Several reasons for the dropping of "political" suggest themselves.
  1. Simple brevity.
  2. Avoidance of the taint of "political" - it's easier to sound scientific and uncontroversial and authorititative if your discipline doesn't have that loaded word "political" in it. (Recall the positivisim movement that went on at around the same time. Same sort of thing.)
  3. Reaction to left-wing political economy, esp. Marx. By being "economists" rather than "political economists", late 19th C & early 20th C writers could avoid the awkward social/political questions raised by Marx and co. and focus on narrower production & distribution issues in a way that allowed them them to disguise their right-wing political intent as the "detached science of economics", rather than as part of the controversial field of "Political economy". (Or, to describe it from the other side of the fence, "allowed them to discard the irrelevant & unscientific baggage of political activists" - same thing, just expressed from a different POV.)

These days, it is conventional to use "political economy" to indicate a broader interest than the narrowly economic, and (in particular) a Marxian theoretical approach.

When I was a student, I had the mind-bending but highly stimulating experience of studying right-wing Economics (in the School of Business) and left-wing Political Economy (part of the School of Social Sciences) at the same time! It was astonishing to discover how much the two radically opposed ways of thinking about production and distribution and society have in common, but you had to do a lot of translation in your head, as they tend to use quite different terms (with quite different implied values) for the same things.

I suspect that your experience of not meeting the term "political economy" in US universities, SLR, is a peculiarity of the USA. That would fit neatly with the curious strength of functonalist sociology in the US, where in the rest of the world (certainly the English-speaking word) functionalisim is something of a poor relation to conflict theory.

Now, how on earth do we get this complex web of shifting meanings into the article without making the whole thing unreadable? No easy task!

Tannin 00:45 Mar 8, 2003 (UTC)

Tannin, I think the article as it stands makes many of the same points you do -- although I invite you to add/edit for clarity. Before you do, though, let me clarify a few things.

1) If I understand you correctly, at the time (1870s) that usage switched from "political economy" to "economics," it is primarily a semantic change. I agree with you that by the 1880s people were using "economics" largely to refer to what ten or twenty years earlier had been called "political economy." In this narrow sense -- and (crucially) at that specific transitional moment, I agree with you that "political economy" and "economics" are synonyms.

2) Nevertheless, I do not believe that the change was merely semantic. It wasn't just "economics" that developed around this time, "political science" did too. There was a stong movement among Western academics, politicians, and bisinessmen to see "politics" and "economics" as separate domains. (in other words, I think your reasons 2 and 3 are very important, but reject your reason 1) But if your reasons 2 and 3 are right, it is still a simplification to say that economics was "originally" another name for political economy -- the change in terminology reflected an important shift in the orientation of the field.

3) That's the 19th century. Now for the 20th -- because the real issue that Enchanter raises in not whether "economics" originally refered to PE, but whether it it still does today. I think you misunderstand me -- I did not write that I have "not met the term 'political economy' in US universities." I am very familiar with people who call themselves, or what they do, political economy. What I wrote was that these people are not economists -- more specifically, I wrote that I know of no economics department, or professor of economics, who calls what they do "political economy" unless the mean the relatively narrow field that looks at balance of payments and tariffs and such -- clearly, not a synonym for "economics but a specialized branch. Moreover, the people I do know who explicitly call what they do "political economy" generally deny being economists (most of them are in sociology or anthropology). These are people you refer to as Marxian, although here in the US it is perhaps more specific, it is followers of Frank and Wallerstein and to some extent Rey. Finally, I am have also "met" political economy programs in US Universities, but they all explicitly identify themselves as interdisciplinary -- that is, not "economics" but a program that involves faculty from economics and political science and tries to define a hybrid subject matter using an interdisciplinary approach. I have just given you three examples of "political economy" in the US and in all three examples, the term is not a synonym for "economics." I have tried to incorporate this material in the article -- please tell me if I did so adequately. Also, if the above is true in the US but not in other English speaking countries, please just put that in. But frankly, your account of your own experience as a student seems to jibe far more with what I wrote than with what Enchanter wrote -- in your experience, "political economy" is not used interchangably with "economics," economists and political economists have different assumptions and political committments!

Enchater's argument is this: "I'm convinced that political economy does often mean the same as economics." It is the use of the present tense that concerns me, and honestly, Tannin, based on what you wrote, I think you do not agree with Enchanter, and do agree with me.

In any event: what to do? I do believe you and Enchanter have something important to add the the article. As both of you point out, there may be regional differences and you really ought to add that to the article. But in addition to that, I insist on two things

  • being clear about how the meaning of these terms has shifted over time (so that neither "economics" nor "PE" may mean quite what they meant in 1870
  • being clear that PE today means several different things, to different people.
  • And I repeat what I said to Enchanter -- if he is right that there are people today who use "Economics" and "Political Economy" as synonyms, by all means include that in the article but with some specificity -- who are they, and where are they? And When they say PE=E, what is their definition? Milton Freidman or Paul Samuelson's definition of economics, or Andre Gundar Frank or Eric Wolf's definition of Political Economy? Because Samuelson and Wolf would never claim that they are they are doing the same thing, so if anyone does claim that they are doing both "economics" and "political economy," we just need to know what they mean by these words. Slrubenstein

I am reverting the article to an earlier NPOV version. I do believe that it may be possible to reincorperate some of the material in the current version, but not as is. There are a few problems. First, it isn't accurate -- many people who identify themselves as political economists do not share the views now described in the article. I have met political ecoomists and have read books and articles by political economists who are not studying the means of production, for example; many of these political economists also reject the labor theory of value (tangentially, the definitions of sociology, anthropology, and psychology are wrong; they are even wrong as accounts of how sociologists and anthropologists use political economy). Second, it is POV -- I am sure there are some people who share these views, but these views cannot be presented as authoritative. Moreover, the views that currently dominate the article are presented without any context or framing. Finally, I take issue with the style, which I think is obfuscatory. For example, "Political Economy studies" makes no sence -- political economy is itself what political economists study. Another example: "Socialism believes" is an awkward construction. Socialism is itself a belief. People believe, not ideologies. There is also too much passive voice. These are not purely stylistic problems, because they direct content. Thus, I am unwilling to change "socialism believes" to "socialists believe" for the simple reason that not all socialists believe this. Many socialists in specific places and times may believe, or may have believed, this stuff -- bwhoever put it in has to be more specific. In any event, I would probably still delete it as it obviously belongs in an article on socialism, not political economy. My suggestion: make sure the appropriate link is here, and contribute to the article on socialism. I have the same problem with the passive voice -- who is the subject of the action? I can't just change it to active voice myself, as I am not always sure who to make the subject. Slrubenstein

The previous article uses "liberal" in a way which is common only to a narrow band of individuals. The expanded article includes almost all of the material in the original, as well as links to a host of disciplines which claim some reference to the term.

Stirling Newberry 00:49, 18 Jan 2004 (UTC)


Hello. I think i resolved this problem that people "equate economics with PE. " with a little historical perspective. Political Economy has since been to split into the fields of Economics *and* Political Science. As well political economy has much to do with the field of public finance, but I did not add anything regarding that yet.

A quote speaking of the split of political economy into economics and political science ( http://edpro.stanford.edu/eah/cambridg.htm ):

"The discipline's formal split into the distinct studies of political science and economics in the nineteenth century, while advantageous for certain scientific developments, has **biased the way economists and political scientists think about many issues**, and has **placed artificial constraints on the study of many important social issues**"

If someone could rewrite the above paragraph and add it in it would clarify a lot. It clarifies the split of political economy (into economics / political science), and also says why people choose to study political economy for the broader picture (since the split has "biased the way economists and political scientists think about many issues" and "placed artificial constraints on the study of many important social issues" [above quote from standford.edu].

There are two problems. First, many universities, at least in the United States, not only have Political Science and Economics Departments, they also have "Political Economy Programs" that offer separate graduate degrees. Moreover, many Political Science and Economics departments offer courses in "Political Economy" that cover issues and approaches that have nothing to do with what has been described in the article. Slrubenstein

Re: Slrubenstein's Comments

Political economy has largely been split into economics and political science. If you read the 2 paragraph 'article' you would notice that the author champions the point that this split is in many ways artificial. It also causes each side to be biased and to ignore important aspects the other side brings to the table.

Any department of political economy is often always an interdepartmental major between economics and political science, (e.g. http://www.williams.edu/politicaleconomy/ ). Courses in political economy are not surprising; they are often public finance courses with a more political science in them.

The questions of this article then become: 1) What things does political economy look at that are neglected by economics and political science? 2) What 'synergies' are created by looking at the big picture of political economy compared to its constituent parts: economics and political science? 3) What, if anything, is there in political economy that is not included in economics or political science? 4) What is the relationship and distinction between public finance and political economy? ShaunMacPherson

You miss my point which is simply that the article should explain not only how people used the term in the 19th century but how they use it now as well. In fact, there are more than 2 "sides." I have no problem with the four questions you raise, as long as the answers are historically and institutionally contextualized. You write above thast the author (I am not sure who you are talking about, though; the article is much longer than two paragraphs) "champions" a particular point of view. But wikipedia is committed to NPOV. Slrubenstein

Slrubenstein said: "not only how people used the term in the 19th century but how they use it now as well"

Isn't the link to the 2 paragraph "*Modern* Political Economy" link not 'now' enough for you? Its modern, now, current not 19th century.

I am not sure what you are talking about -- I don't see a link in the second paragraph and I don't know what you mean "Its modern, now, current not 19th century" doesn't seem grammatical. Be that as it may, I still think the paragraphs following the dictionary definition (which, inter alia, is I think bad form in an encyclopedia article) are too sweeping, using the present tense and speaking of political economy as a uniform, homogeneous thing; I also think the sections of and following "Central Concepts" are too general, sweeping, ahistorical and decontextualized, as they ignore differences in the terms used by different kinds of "political economists." Slrubenstein

As for the link, I was talking about is the only link in the origional post you critiqued: http://edpro.stanford.edu/eah/cambridg.htm , 2 paragraphs about a book called "Modern Political Economy".

The 4 questions i raised: 1) What things does political economy look at that are neglected by economics and political science? 2) What 'synergies' are created by looking at the big picture of political economy compared to its constituent parts: economics and political science? 3) What, if anything, is there in political economy that is not included in economics or political science? 4) What is the relationship and distinction between public finance and political economy?

Should be a good starting point, but I was hoping someone could add some more questions to add. ShaunMacPherson

Your four questions are challenging due to the multiplicity and fluidity of the definitions involved. Having studied in a school of economics (University of Waterloo) and a school of political economy (University of Toronto), I agree that the differences are not easy to spot. I will try to answer your questions but this is only a personal observation.
1) What you find in political economy that you will not find well covered in either economics or political science is the application of economic analysis to explicitly political situations. Although economics has both its positive and normative side (see for example welfare economics), the prevailing methodology of model building based an axioms largely abstracts from political questions. Any necessary value judgements are subsummed in the axioms, then typically ignored.
2) Looking at the bigger picture gives you historical and political context. Economics seperates economic theory from economic history. Political economy tends to give more historical context to any given economic analysis. Political economy is also more forthcoming about the political and human context of any decision: who gains and who loses. user:Sterling Newberry makes the interesting observation that political economy tends to depend less on price adjustments, a comment that I will have to think about more before I respond to it. It is my opinion that all these differences and simularities have less to do will content and scope that with emphasis, methodology, and purpose.
3) Same answer as 1).
4) Public finance is the branch of economics that deals with the sources, management, and spending of government funds. It uses the methodology of economics, so what has been said under points 1) and 2) apply.
mydogategodshat 21:45, 29 Jan 2004 (UTC)

This is interesting information, I think the article should be edited to include this. I will look for some sites that give some more distinctions and edit some of the article later this week.



I have begun editing a paragraph but again the failure to distingush clearly the difference between economics and political science from political economy is making it difficult to be crystal clear. Here is my edit:

Political economy is, broadly speaking, concerned with all phases of human activity that involve production, exchange, consumption and disposal of the needs and wants of human beings, including the political ramifications of this activity. While these topic are usually within the scope of economics, economists, with the exception of some game theorists, usually do not look at the larger political picture instead focus on specific aspects, such as price movements, and their effects on the economy.

The problem I have with my edit is that economists often do look at the political picture, esp. since many economists work for government so they are hugely concerned with the political aspects of economic policy.

Also my editing edit from a week ago of the intro paragraph:

This field has since been largely divided into the two fields of economics and political_science. However, there are those who still choose to look at the broader picture of economics and political science in combination.

This gives an excellent segway into *why* people choose to study both economics and political economy in combination as 'political economy', and the benefits, and draw backs, of doing so. Also I will add that political economy, like many other fields (e.g. library and information science) is an interdisciplinary field.


I think you make important points here. Still, I believe that the root problem is the way the article begins with this definition of political economy:
Political economy is, broadly speaking, concerned with all phases of human activity that involve production, exchange, consumption and disposal of the needs and wants of human beings, including the political ramifications of this activity.
The problem is, this is but one version of political economy. There or people who say they are doing "political economy" and they do not mean this, they mean something else. The article must not privilege any one particular version of political economy. It should cover all major forms of/approaches to political economy, and locate them not just in terms of other disciplines (e.g. economics and political science -- and the article neglects other kinds of political economy, located in anthropology, sociology, history, and so on), but in terms of countries and also time periods. Some parts of the article does this, but other parts do not, such as the definition you quoted and I repeated -- this needs to be changed.Slrubenstein
I agree that this is but one variant of the definition, but it is what might be called a "root" definition. By that I mean it is the definition appropriate for the interdisciplinary study that blends economics and political science. When you are blending economics and political science and anthroplology you will get a different definition. When you blend economics and political science with sociology you get another definition. When you blend Ec and PolSc with Marxism you get still another difinition. The point is that these second order definitions are variants of the basic root definition. For that reason I have no problem with Shaun starting with the definition that he has, then going into the subdefinitions appropirate to the various subfields in the next section. mydogategodshat 20:54, 4 Feb 2004 (UTC)
The alternative is to have a definition that is so general as to be useless. mydogategodshat 20:57, 4 Feb 2004 (UTC)

I see your point; I think for me the question is, are you speaking abstractly (that there is some ideal entity called political economy, which, when mixed with some other ideal entity called anthropology produces one thing, but when mixed with ... &c.), or are you speaking concretely (in 17xx M- first formulated political economy as ..., by 18xx it had come to take n forms ... and so on). I think the article currently mixes both approaches. I much prefer the second approach and just think the article should be more consistent and clearer in this regard Slrubenstein

If I understand you correctly, you would like to see a progression of definitions from the earliest to the most recent. The physicrats in the 17th century defined Pol Ec as such'nsuch... The Merchantilists defined it as suchn'such... The classical economists defined it as ... ectera to the present day. Do you not think that that would be better handled in a "history" section? Shouldn't the definition section contain just the current definition? mydogategodshat 05:30, 5 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Yes, you understand me correctly -- although I would have no problem with alternatives, as long as the type of or approach to political economy is clearly framed and contextualized (that is, the order doen't have to be chronological, although I do think that the time frame among other contextual features has to be clear). To answer your question, I would say "yes" if I thought all people who identify themselves or their work as "political economy" agreed about what they mean by political economy. I don't think they do. As a matter of fact, one reason I suggested that the definitions be presented chronologically is that it seems to me that the opening definition of PE is not the "current definition" but in fact a 19th century definition. Now, I am sure there are people today who identify themselves as political economists who would find the opening definition acceptable -- but based on my research, the number of people who would say it is a good definition is relatively small. That in my mind doesn't make it wrong -- it just means that the article needs to be clearer about who uses this definition, and what other definitions are current. Slrubenstein

What is it about Shaun's definition that makes you think it is more than 100 years out of date. Please be specific. mydogategodshat 05:21, 6 Feb 2004 (UTC)



1) This definition was already there, I just added slightly to the end, I'm not sure who added it or even how true it is:

Political economy is, broadly speaking, concerned with all phases of human activity that involve production, exchange, consumption and disposal of the needs and wants of human beings, including the political ramifications of this activity. While these topic are usually within the scope of economics, economists, with the exception of some game theorists, usually do not look at the larger political picture instead focus on specific aspects, such as price movements, and their effects on the economy.

2) I read the above chat and I think it would probably be best to put the past definitions of political economy into the history section, and also a brief passage about the resultant birth of economics and political science as seperate entities, why it was necessary to split them, what was impetus behind the split etc.

3) The beginning part should be concerned as to why people bother to study political economy, or any other interdisciplinary field instead of its constituent parts in the first place. So far the reasons why people study interdisciplinary fields, like political economy, seem to be:

From ( http://edpro.stanford.edu/eah/cambridg.htm )

  • to avoid narrow focus which may lead to bias
  • to avoid artificial constraints on the study of many important social issues


  • scholars want the 'big picture'
  • focusing only on one subject disregards valuable insights from the other areas

4) This along with User Newberry's answers to my 4 questions should be a good start. I will make a few small edits, and some large edits tommrow. I'll post the changes I make in here for discussion.

See you soon!


Distinction between economics and political economy:


Economics and political economy are often terms used interchangably, although there are distinctions and the paper goes into them.

Definitions of Political Economy

1. economics, economic science, political economy -- (the branch of social science that deals with the production and distribution and consumption of goods and services and their management)


 Definition:   [n]  the branch of social science that deals with the production and distribution and consumption of goods and services and their management  
 Synonyms:   economic science, economics 

Main Entry: political economy 1 : ECONOMICS 2 : the theory or study of the role of public policy in influencing the economic and social welfare of a political unit

Here are three of terms from the internet, just to reinforce my point that political economy and economics are quite similar, and in some cases considered equal. --ShaunMacPherson 11:05, 6 Feb 2004 (UTC)

--- Possible LARGE ERROR:

MS Encarta Encyclopeda 2003 gives Adam Smith in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (a.k.a. 'Wealth of Nations') (1776) credit for developing political economy. "It was the first work to establish political economy as a subject of study in its own right."

This means that either MS Encarta Encyclopedia is wrong, or the first paragraph of our article is at best incomplete. --ShaunMacPherson 11:16, 6 Feb 2004 (UTC)


Societies produce more than isolated individuals, and labor with the aid of capital produces more than labor alone. Societies also generate more waste, and capital makes demands for investment and organization. The first can be referred to as the social surplus and capital surplus respectively, and the second social costs and capital requirements. One of the most important social costs is war. Indeed the difference between political economy and economics is that, in economics, war is a temporarily alteration in price variation, the old joke being that "World War III, should it come, will be noted in two sentences in the Wall Street Journal, with an article inside on its effect on soybean futures."

I think this paragraph should be deleted since it seems to be false. As well the claim: war is a temporarily alteration in price variation results in no hits on google, and war + 'alteration in price variation' also reveals nothing (i.e. it is either wrong, or a Wikipedian knows something the rest of the world doesn't.)
As well I am unsure if economists generally fall into this trap of counting antisocial behaviour (i.e. war, crime) as contributions to the economy. Of course many economists add it to GDP, but only because there are few, if any, good ways (in any social science field) to easily disclude it. Some economists have created 'green indexes' to try to take them into account but that is for another time, for now I say ax this, opinions? --ShaunMacPherson 11:39, 6 Feb 2004 (UTC)


There is little, if anything, in the section 'Central concepts of political economy' that is not in the direct purview of economics. It should therefore be moved to economics. --ShaunMacPherson 11:52, 6 Feb 2004 (UTC)

--- Deleted Parts

((Political economy is, broadly speaking, concerned with all phases of human activity that involve production, exchange, consumption and disposal of the needs and wants of human beings,)) This is economics.

((including the political ramifications of this activity)) economics is not excluded from looking at political ramifcations.

((Within political science, the term refers to liberal, realist, and Marxian theories concerning the relationship between economic and political power among states. This is also of concern to students of economic history and institutional economics; nevertheless, within economics the term is more closely associated with Game theory.)) Put it into political science.

Goal of political economy is erroneous

The first paragraph under the heading Political Economy->Centeral concepts->exchange is fine. The second paragraph is not fine. If nothing else the link behind "political capital" was busted in that it pointed to the definition of capital cities. I have changed it to point to "law_and_economics" (which is a little bit better). But that does not actually fix what is wrong here. Perhaps the "announcement" of the goal of political economy (or THE economy) should be elswhere in the overall article and that might help. Even so, I see no support for the notion that the creation of money is the goal of exchange or economic activity. Even mercantilism (the hoarding of gold) was abandoned by Smith and Ricardo. This paragraph needs a lot of work and/or discussion. A statement of overall goal needs to be moved to some other (I suggest more prominent) place in the article. The definition of money and capital as two different things is IMHO important. You may object to what I have done, but IMHO SOMETHING needs to be done with ths paragraph. It was simply WRONG.

Do you mean that it is an incorrect account of money and capital?
Ricardo and others have said that it is OK to refer to money as capital and to refer to _real_ capital (tools, machinery, etc) as capital but not in the same breath. Further, the creation of fiat money with no tie back to gold or anything else now makes the use of the word capital in reference to money only a financial reality and not an economic reality. Or do you mean that it misrepresents what political economists have claimed? Long ago in the land of nod there may have been such claims. Not now.
The first criticism is irrelevant, the second is very relevant. Remember that this is an article about "Political Economy." We should provide an accurate account of different forms of "political economy" and we can include critiques of "political economy" but the crucial thing is to represent what political economists have claimed accurately, whether we agree with such claims or not. Slrubenstein | Talk 23:54, 26 November 2005 (UTC)
It isn't a question of ME agreeing about something some dead guy had a very decent right to assert at the time. But MONEY is not what it was and it most certainly is NOT capital in the classical sense. Adam Smith (I think it was Smith) argued against Mercantilism and was for free trade. If memory serves Ricardo was the "comparative advantage" man. The notion that creating big piles of gold was the objective of political economy MAY have been minimally correct when the gold was used to purchase assets of other nation states. Money in the USA is created when the government deficit spends and when banks make loans. There is simply NO reason to see the expansion of the money supply as an OBJECTIVE of any kind. The money supply is perfectly elastic and has been since 1973. It is probably too elastic. What would Stiglitz say about it in the here and now? I don't know.... But he is a political economist as opposed to a microeconomics person i.e. an "economist". Seems he is interested in reducing poverty.
http://GreaterVoice.org/econ/quotes/Political_Economy.php -- 05:15, 28 November 2005 (UTC)
It seems to me that the goal of exchange is to maximize the benefit of division and specialization of land and labour. It might be argued that maximizing the benefit of capital development is also a goal, but that is probably overreaching. It seems that for any efficacy, division of labour is utterly dependent upon exchange. The creation and maintenance of generally acceptable minimal "rules of order" is very important to this maximization of benefit evolving from exchange. -- 16:06, 28 November 2005 (UTC)
It seems to me that these are your views. Some are simply objective reality. But the stuff about exchange is admittedly just an opinion. Please replace it if you have something better (something that can be backed up with a cite). I believe that my "views" are more correct than what I overwrote. If you can cite something to defend what was there then please do so. Else we can just delete.
Here at Wikipedia it does not matter whether your views are right or wrong — they just do not belong in the article. If you are presenting the view of a political economist or a critic of political economy, and can provide a verifiable source, then by all means incorporate it into the article. Slrubenstein | Talk 00:44, 1 December 2005 (UTC)
Very well. I will hold you to the same level of "authoritative source". If you can find any support for the stuff that was here before I showed up then please cite it. e.g. If you can find an authoritative source that says the objective of consumption is to create unusable garbage I'll go take the issue up with him.

Consumption and Distribution

Consumption does not have as a goal or an intent the return of goods to a state of waste. And consumption (the realization of utility) does not always create waste. -- 20:18, 28 November 2005 (UTC)

I have cleaned-up the section on Paradigms of Distribution as it was riddled with errors, and displayed an American bias that was not justifiable. I also removed Ayn Rand as she is not a credible author of anything other than cult novels. I also reordered some thinkers into their proper philosophical categories. TrulyTory 21:43, 9 January 2006 (UTC)

Lack of sources and neutral attribution

I'm concerned that this article contains a lot of non-mainstream viewpoints not attributed to the people who hold them, and has nowhere near enough references to ensure verifiability. Many mainstream sources describe "political economy" as nothing more than an alternative term for economics. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica article on Political Economy has two paragraphs which says no more than that. The current Wikipedia article is completely different; most of it is unsourced and most of it appears to me to be based on views held by certain particular schools of thought (such as Marxism) without identifying who holds those views. There is nothing wrong with including the views of all schools of thought within Wikipedia. However, it is essential that they are attributed correctly, particularly where they relate to views which many would regard as outside the mainstream (such as the view that the whole subject of economics is flawed and misguided and that it needs to be replaced by something better called "political economy".) Enchanter 19:45, 20 January 2007 (UTC)

After doing some more research and reading up on the links given in the article, I'm still unable to find sources that back up the article. For example, there is a whole section on "paradigms of distribution", but I can find no source that used "paradigms of distribution" in the way described here (for example, the phrase only gets 80 or so Google hits, many of which are either Wikipedia mirrors or about totally unrelated subjects). The whole section, and much of the rest of the article, looks like an original essay to me, and I'm beginning to think that it may be better to remove some of the text en masse rather than attempt to source it and clean it up. Enchanter 01:14, 22 January 2007 (UTC)

I've now removed the whole section on "General paradigms of political economy", as I still can't find any sources that talk about "paradigms of political economy" in this way. It looks like original research to me, and needs to be sourced if it is to remain. Enchanter 20:20, 25 January 2007 (UTC)

I've now also removed the section on "Concepts of political economy". Again, this was unsourced and it did not make clear what schools of economic thought held the views described. Most of the substantive content is already dealt with elsewhere in Wikipedia articles on the various economic schools of thought. Enchanter 15:20, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

I've now also removed the "Market" and "Scope" sections, which suffereed from similar problems to the others noted above. Enchanter 23:15, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Political Economists are generally political scientists who have focused on economics. They do tend to look at the political consequences of economic policy, most of the time focusing on the trade deficit. As Mr. Newberry demonstrated, they generally have no clue that a trade deficit also means a capital account surplus...which is in consensus everywhere outside of Political Science. (Someoneelse)

Labour theory of value attribution

The first paragraph of this article attributes the introduction of the labour theory of value to John Locke. However, the Wikilink to LTV in that very sentence, reads:

... the theory has been traced back to Treatise of Taxes, written in 1662 by Sir William Petty.

In fact, Locke is not mentioned anywhere in that article. I will leave it for someone else to fix, since I don't know which, if either, is correct. --Horse Badorties 04:48, 10 June 2007 (UTC)

Game Theory

Enchanter, if you don't understand something do not delete it -- explain what you don't understand so others can try to improve the article by making it clearer. Don't delete relevant conteent. Slrubenstein

I don't understand why this sentence , "Within economics the term is more closely associated with game theory.". More closely associated with game theory than what? Who associates political economy with game theory? Political economy, as described in the rest of the article, has no obvious connection with game theory whatsoever - certainly no more than mainstream economics. As far as I'm aware, game theory is used no more by people who describe what they do as "political economy" than those who describe what they do as "economics". Enchanter

I agree with you about the grammar (I don't think I wrote the sentence). But when I was in grad. school I took a course on political economy that was virtually all game-theory. I have talked to others (My own discipline does not use game theory with, or as political economy) and they tell me that it is common in some disciplines to use "political economy" to refer to a body of knowledge that depends on game theory. Slrubenstein

I've never heard that before, and I don't think it's a mainstream view. I would be interested in references to works which describe political economy as mainly being based on game theory, because I certainly have never seen any. Game theory is well established in economics, and it would be just as possible to take a graduate course in economics that emphasised game theory.
More generally, I think this article still has many serious deficiencies - mainly that it describes non-mainstream views without attributing them. It starts off with a marxist style definition of political economy as the study of "relations of production". It completely skates over the common use of political economy as covering more-or-less the same field of study as economics, despite this being the view taken by Britannica, Encarta, the New Palgrave, and academic course titles and journals that are too numerous to mention. It's full of errors, starting in the second sentence which contrasts political economy with the ideas of the physiocrats, despite it having been the physiocrats who first used the term. And the bulk of the article is a fairly confused presentation of Marxist influenced economics, without making it properly clear what schools of though do and don't hold these views, and without making it clear that these are not generally the views of mainstream economists. Enchanter

I happen to agree with your second comment. In anthropology and sociology "political economy" is indeed identified with Marxism, but not in other disciplines. If you care to look at the history, I think much of what you refer to was added by Stirling Newberry but I may be wrong -- if I am right maybe he can respond to your comment ... Slrubenstein

Everyone may already know this but... Marxism is recognized as a significant branch in political economy (how significant is a good question, especially in our 21st century). It is obviously widely discredited in policy and business circles and you will most likely hear about it only in very technical and/or academic work. I agree, this article leans too far towards Marxism (and doesn't seem to realize it?). The first step I would take is to identify some of the most influential schools in political economy (neo-classical, Marxist, and something like Austrian School come to mind).
Game theory is a popular synthetic branch of mathematics and economics for modeling. It's pretty effective at simplification, which makes it great for teaching and explaining because it allows conceptualization and quantification to work together. For example, comparative advantage is pretty clear with a matrix. But this is not the majority of economics, only one perspective. The techniques you use to model and analyze models need not be game theory. Now, I would imagine many newer analytic theories and even some old ones have been coopted under the label "game theory", but that's another issue.
Game theory is a popular synthetic branch of mathematics and economics for modeling. It may be used as a way of modeling economic behavior, but it is more purely mathematics and/or logic (depending on how you taxonomize things), which is then applied to economics, psychology, sociology, politics, and many other fields. Game theory qua game theory antedates its economic applications. Van Neuman and Morgenstern's germinal publication did examine economics, but that was an application of the mathematics. According to the WP article on game theory, it was first used to describe a card playing strategy in the 18th Century. John Elder 18:14, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
As far as the term "political economy", I have always associated it with the fact that organization inherently creates, sustains, and influences exchange via a market. Thus, the political organization of the world *contributes* to the creation, maintenance, and happenings of the market. The assumption here is that rational choice dictates a modicum of organization, and that choice of organization is political-economic. --Vector4F 05:25, 24 December 2005 (UTC)

Definition of the term Political Economy

Newberry reverted my work with no explanation here, but suggested that the labor theory of value comes later than political economy. That is not true. Locke first developed the labor theory of value and it was an important element of political economy in its early years. By the way, I did not write the sentence Newberry objects to -- I was merely reinserting a sentence someone else wrote, that Newberry had deleted. I made other changes that Newberrry reverted, even though he did not object to them. Newberry instead opens with a definition of "economy" from Rousseau, and there are three problems with this: first, Rousseau was not a political economist; second, you do not need to cite Rousseau on the etymology of economy, all you need is a dictionary; third, "economy" is not "political economy" and the etymology does not in any way help us understand what political economy was or is. Slrubenstein

Why the original use of the term is primary First - political economy has a continuous history under that name, a number of important journals, founded before "economics" caught on, still are termed "Political Economy" such as the journal of political economy which is fairly straightforward economics. The term is used in a variety of ways, and yes, everyone wants to "own" it. However, the one thing all of them have in common is the root of coming from the 19th century discipline, "political economy". Stirling Newberry 12:05, 13 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Confusion on what Political Economy "is"

"There are several advantages inherent in the broader scope offered by studying political economy. First, by taking full advantage of the best techniques from economics and political science, resulting conclusions can be more indepth and complete. Second, focusing in on only one subject disregards valuable insights from the other areas which may lead to conclusions that are biased, or incomplete." I removed this part for the following reasons: The idea that combining techniques and insights from various scientific disciplines would lead to more 'complete' or less biased science is not specific to political science. Furthermore to my knowledge it is not a generally accepted notion and would require some evidence to back it up.

"Societies produce more than isolated individuals, and labour with the aid of capital produces more than labour alone. Societies also generate more waste, and capital makes demands for investment and organization. The first can be referred to as the social surplus and capital surplus respectively, and the second as social costs and capital requirements." <-- this is a bit unclear if you ask me, I'm not sure I understand it :P So, what exactly are "Social surplus" and "Capital surplus"? It's important to make those clear in the article, since the following sections makes extensive references to them.

Here's how I parse it:
But I don't know if this is right. If so, somebody who knows that it's correct should be able to quickly revise this. John Elder 18:35, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
I've read the article twice. Why? Because my son is a Political Economy major and I want to know what that is. I'll be working with one of his profs on some projects, and the prof got his PhD in Political Economy. Having read and reread the WP article, I feel no less ignorant than I did before. Perhaps I should corral them into contributing. Meanwhile, I'm grateful for all of you putting labor into this article, even though it seems to have a healthy amount of dispute going on. Here's what I think would be helpful:
  • A definition of political economy as used in current academics. It seems that there might be several of these. Perhaps a listing of some major universities with PE majors/departments would be useful, along with (fair use) citation of their definitions.
  • Examples of its use in current literature, with appropriate citations and examples illustrating the breadth of use.
  • The historical usage - which seems fascinating. And let's avoid the "Marxism is(n't) discredited debate." The 20th Century showcased multiple interpretations (and applications) of Marxism. Their failures may or may not discredit Marxism, but that's a debate for a different article. It would be helpful to see a table comparing Marxist and some non-/pre-Marxist approaches to PE. But it makes no more sense to speak of Marxism (in this venue) as discredited than it does to speak of feudalism as discredited. John Elder 18:30, 15 June 2007 (UTC)

Smith a 'chairman'?

Until October 2007 the article stated that Smith held the chair in moral philosophy at Glasgow. Then it was changed to read that Smith was "Chairman of Moral Philosophy". Someone who holds a chair in a university is not a chairman, they are a professor. A chairman is someone who heads a committee or presides over a meeting. Can we change it back please - unless of course there is some evidence that this usage which sounds so odd today was actually employed at the time? Thanks. Andy Denis (talk) 16:51, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

A Note on Keeping the Discussion organized

I've cleaned up the discussion page to keep the conversation more organized and readable. The article itself suffers from a lack of readability; perhaps organizing the talk page will enable better discussion and a better article. Please follow Wikipedia standards, namely Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines and Wikipedia:Talk page layout. This means a threaded discussion Help:Using talk pages#Indentation and signing your comments (Wikipedia:Signatures). Dpetley (talk) 04:24, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

a mistake in the dates in the etymology section

Hi, I noticed that there's an error in the dates in the etymology section of the articles. The years are supposed to be 17XX and instead its written 19XX. I didn't fix it because I don't know what the right date is in the 1700's so please fix it. thank you Noabeny (talk) 19:56, 8 December 2011 (UTC) Noa

no references? and add fragmentation theory

1) Very few references in this article, particularly the last section which is filled with unsourced definitions of various disciplines.

2) We could add something about the various theories that attempt to explain the origins of or motivations behind the creation of Political Economy/International PE/International Relations. I favour the fragmentation theory or the idea that:

The disciplines (in reverse order of their institutional establishment) of IPE, IR, Political Science and Economics are, arguably, outcomes of the fragmentation of political economy, from at least the marginalist revolution of the 1870s onwards. In this revolution, the socio-political contents of political economy (in particular, its basis in history, class relations and the social production of wealth) was evicted from the new-found discipline of economics, and replaced with assumptions about homo economicus, scarce resources, subjective preference theory and market equilibrium. One of the founders of marginalism argued that ‘the supposed conflict of labour with capital is a delusion. The real conflict is between producers and consumers’ (Jevons, 1887: 98). The prior concerns of political economy were subsequently reincorporated within other emergent academic disciplines (Milonakis and Fine, 2009; Wallerstein, 2001).

Benjamin Selwyn (2014) 'Twenty-first-century International Political Economy: A class-relational perspective' European Journal of International Relations 1–25

— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 23:51, 8 December 2014 (UTC)