The Limits of International Political Economy

  • Joel T. Shelton
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


Political economy has been a contested terrain since its emergence as a field of knowledge and practice concerned with securing material abundance through the proper ordering of the emerging commercial societies of late seventeenth-century Europe. Political economy concerned itself with understanding both the production of wealth and the social and political order that sustained the workings of an increasingly complex market system; early capitalism promised to overcome scarcity but at the price of destabilizing the old order. In the context of these uncertainties, political economy emerged as a field of knowledge concerned with understanding the conditions of possibility for order and abundance and driven to investigate the extent to which the disharmonies of the emerging order could be managed or redirected, at least for a time. Disputes and exclusions emerged early on: According to the founding lore of the discipline, Adam Smith dealt a ‘mortal blow’ to Sir James Steuart, Smith’s well-known and better-traveled contemporary, when he failed to cite his fellow Scotsman’s An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy (1767) in The Wealth of Nations (1776) — ‘even in places where his arguments directly confronted those of Steuart’ (Blaug 1991: x). Lest we assume the slight is accidental, a 1772 letter from Smith to William Pulteney suggests otherwise: ‘I have the same opinion of Sir James Steuart’s book that you have. Without once mentioning it, I flatter myself that any false principle in it will meet with a clear and distinct refutation in mine’ (as cited in Rae 1895: 253).


Political Economy Candidate State Rational Incentive Subjective Dimension International Political Economy 
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Copyright information

© Joel T. Shelton 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel T. Shelton
    • 1
  1. 1.Lafayette CollegeUSA

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