Faculty Profile: Mark Blyth, PhD. Columbia University 1999

Mark Blyth
Mark Blyth, PhD. Columbia University 1999
Professor of Political Science, Director of the International Relations & Development Studies Concentrations
Political Science
Work: 401-863-1567


I am Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at Brown University and a Faculty Fellow at Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies. I grew up in Dundee, Scotland. I received my PhD in political science from Columbia University in 1999 and taught at the Johns Hopkins University from 1997 until 2009.

My research interests lie in the of field international political economy. More specifically, my research trespasses several fields and aims to be as interdisciplinary as possible, drawing from political science, economics, sociology, complexity theory and evolutionary theory. My work falls into several related areas: the politics of ideas, how institutions (and disciplines) change, political parties, and the politics of finance.

Research Description

The Politics of Ideas
Growing up in the UK under Mrs. Thatcher, the politics of ideas, that is, how politics alters agents' conceptions of what they should want was always on the TV screen or on the front pages of the newspapers. Yet when I came to grad school in the US, the idea that how people think about the world may matter for how they act in it was treated with deep suspicion (and still is in some quarters). Here, interests - unproblematic, given and transitive -were the order of the day. I'd like to think that my work has moved the debate along a bit in that regard. A few key publications in this area are:

"Any More Bright Ideas? The Ideational Turn of Comparative Political Economy."
Comparative Politics 29 (1) January 1997 pp. 229-250.

"The Transformation of the Swedish Model: Economic Ideas, Distributional Conflict and Institutional Change" World Politics 54 (1) October 2001 pp. 1-26.

"Structures do not Come with an Instruction Sheet: Interests, Ideas and Progress in Political Science," Perspectives on Politics 1 (4), December 2003 pp. 695-703.

"Beyond the Standard Model," in Robert Cox and Daniel Beland (eds.) Forthcoming in Robert Cox and Daniel Beland (eds.) Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, Oxford University Press, 2010.

How Institutions Change
Part of my fascination with ideas, apart from trying to understand what made Mrs. Thatcher appealing to millions of people who were made worse off by her policies (if you don't believe me check the UK inequality stats) was a puzzle within the so-called 'new institutionalist' literature in political science, which was all the rage when I was at grad school. Specifically, if people get their preferences from their institutional context, then where do they get the preference to change that context? My answers also have to do with ideas and can be found here:

Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2002).

"Domestic Institutions and the Possibility of Social Democracy" Comparative European Politics, 3 (4) December (2005) pp. 379-407.

"When Liberalisms Change: Comparing the Politics of Deflations and Inflations," in Arthur T. Denzau, Thomas C. Willett, and Ravi K. Roy (eds.) Neoliberalism, National and Regional Experiments with Global Ideas (London and New York: Routledge 2006)

"Beyond the Usual Suspects: Ideas, Uncertainty, and Building Institutional Orders" Contribution to a special issue of International Studies Quarterly, 51 (4) December 2007 pp. 761-777.

"The Secret Life of Institutions: On the Role of Ideas in Evolving Economic Systems"
Revue de la Régulation: Capitalisme, Institutions, Pouvoirs. n°3/4, novembre 2008, pp: 1-11.

How Disciplines Change
Related to my work on how institutions change is how academic fields change. By this I mean the self-understandings academics have of their own work and how the fields of knowledge they are part of evolve and change over time.

"The State of the Discipline in American Political Science: Be Careful What You Wish For?" British Journal of Politics and International Relations 1 (3) October 1999 pp. 345-365 (with Robin Varghese).

"Great Punctuations: Prediction, Randomness, and the Evolution of Comparative Political Science" American Political Science Review 100 (4) November (2006) pp. 493-498.

"An Approach to Comparative Analysis, or a Sub-Field Within a Sub-Field? Political Economy," in Mark Lichbach and Alan Zuckerman (eds.), Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

"Torn Between Two Lovers: Caught in the Middle of British and American IPE" New Political Economy, 14 (3) (2009): 329-336.

Political Parties
If my work on ideas (and institutions) was an attempt to work out what made Mrs. Thatcher possible, then my work on political parties was my attempt to understand what made Blair, Schroeder and Clinton possible. I never bought the line that 'globalization made them do it' and instead sought answers within political parties themselves. Since parties are both institutions and agents they are particularly interesting. My research in this area continues in a joint project with Jonathan Hopkin of the LSE (http://personal.lse.ac.uk/hopkin/) and Riccardo Pellizzo at Griffith University (http://www.griffith.edu.au/business-commerce/centre-governance-public-policy/staff/riccardo-pelizzo)

"Globalization and the Limits of Democratic Choice: Social Democracy and the Rise of Political Cartelization" Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft 6 (3) (July) 2003 pp. 60-82.

"Domestic Institutions and the Possibility of Social Democracy" Comparative European Politics, 3 (4) December (2005) pp. 379-407.

"Globalization Didn't Make You Do It! Understanding Social Democratic Party Choices" ("La Globalizzazione e il Mutamento della Social Democrazia") Meridiana - Rivista di Storia e Scienze Sociali Vol. 50-51 (2005) pp. 41-70.

"From Catch all Politics to Cartelization: The Political Economy of the Cartel Party" Western European Politics Vol. 28 (1) January 2005, pp. 34-61 (with Richard S. Katz).

The Politics of Finance (and Governing Complex Systems)
Given the recent global financial crisis there has been an explosion of interest in this area. My interest here is a bit more longstanding.

Following the dot-com burst and the demise of the hedge fund LTCM, and building upon my work in the politics of ideas where I use the distinction between risk and uncertainty a lot, I became interested in how banks and the like think about risk. And the more I looked into this the more worried I got. I published a piece back in 2003, which suggested that LTCM was just the beginning and that the way banks calculate risk was going to blow up the world. Nothing of the sort happened. So I guessed I was wrong about VaR and derivatives and went of to write about parties. And then the world blew up.

I guess someone was reading my stuff on this because in 2008 I was invited to join the Warwick Commission on International Financial Reform that made a case for macro-prudential regulation. (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/warwickcommission/report/) I am also interested in finance because it's a great example of how humans deal with complex systems…badly - and given the level of general interest in this topic you get to write short pieces for non-academics, which is fun.

"The Political Power of Financial Ideas: Transparency, Risk and Distribution in Global Finance" in Jonathan Kirshner (ed.) Monetary Orders (Cornell University Press 2003) pp. 239-259.

"The Politics of Compounding Bubbles: The Global Housing Bubble in Comparative Perspective." Comparative European Politics, Fall 2008, pp. 387-406.

"Re-Constructing IPE: Some Conclusions Drawn from a Crisis" in Abdelal, Blyth and Parsons, Constructing the International Economy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010.

"This Time It is Really Different: Europe, the Financial Crisis and Staying on Top in the Twenty-First Century" in Daniel Breznitz and John Zysman (eds.) Can the Rich Countries Stay Rich? (forthcoming in 2011).

"The G20s Dead Ideas," Foreign Policy (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66490/mark-blyth-and-neil-k-shenai/the-g-20s-dead-ideas?page=show) July 2010.

"Bouncy-Castle Finance," Foreign Affairs Magazine (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/09/14/bouncy_castle_finance, September 2009.

In addition to all this I am associated (somewhat reluctantly, but inevitably given the work I have done on ideas and interests) with an approach called constructivism. I recently co-edited Constructing the International Economy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010), which surveys different versions of constructivist analysis.

I also edited a textbook of sorts - The Routledge Handbook of International Political Economy: IPE as a Global Conversation (New York: Routledge Press 2009), which surveys different schools and sects of IPE around the globe.

I am currently working on two books. One is an ever-evolving behemoth called The End of the Liberal World? that questions the political and economic sustainability of liberal democracies.

The other, under contract at Oxford University Press, is entitled Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, which interrogates the return to prominence of the ideas of financial orthodoxy following the global financial crisis.

I have also published on subjects as diverse as the Varieties of Capitalism school, the film The Matrix, Nassim Taleb's idea of Black Swans, and how American school districts change as an example of institutional change, as can be seen in this CV found here.

Forthcoming pieces on the efficiency/equality trade off, evolutionary theory and institutional change, and how the discipline of economics is responding to the crisis will be posted here as they come out.