Mark M. Blyth Eastman Professor of Political Economy

I am Professor of International Political Economy and International Studies. I have appointments in Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies and in the Department of Political Science. 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 and comparative 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.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

See works listed in prior section.

research overview

I am interested in how economic institutions and economic ideas change over time, and how this interplay makes possible the distributonal politics of a particular historical moment. 

research statement

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.

"Ideas, Uncertainty and Evolution," in Robert Cox and Daniel Beland (eds.) in Robert Cox and Daniel Beland (eds.) Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, Oxford University Press, 2011.

“Paradigms and Paradox: The Politics of Economics Ideas in Two Moments of Crisis.” Governance, 26 (4) December 2012.

“Austerity as Ideology: A Reply to my Critics,” Comparative European Politics, 11 (6) December 2013: 737-751.

“The Austerity Delusion: How a Dangerous Idea Won Over the West,” Foreign Affairs, April/May 2013: 41-56.


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 below.

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.

“Introduction to the Special Issue on the Evolution of Institutions” with Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Orion Lewis, Sven Steinmo, The Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 7 (3) September 2011, pp. 1-17.

“The BRICs and the Washington Consensus: An Introduction,” Special Issue of the Review of International Political Economy, ‘Dreaming with the BRICs,’ 20 (2) April 2013: 241-255 (with Cornel Ban).

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.

“Constructivism and the Study of International Political Economy in China,” Review of International Political Economy, 20 (6) December 2013: 1276-1299 (with Qingxin K. Wang).

"Ideas and Historical Institutionalism," forthcoming in Fioretos (et. al., Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Histiorical Institutionalism (2014). 

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. Its also something that I am coming back to as I think there is a link here to how Independent Central Banks ended up the only economic policymaking institution left standing. 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. 

"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 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   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.

“What if Most Swans are Black? The Unsettling World of Nassim Taleb” Critical Review, January 2010. 

“The Black Swan of Cairo: How Suppressing Volatility Makes the World Less Predictable and More Dangerous” Foreign Affairs, 90 (3) April 2011 (with Nassim Taleb).

“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.) The Third Globalization: Can Wealthy Nations Stay Rich in the Twenty-First Century? (New York: Oxford University Press 2013).

“Print Less but Transfer More: Why Central Banks Should Give Money Directly to the People.” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014 (with Eric Lonergan).


Other Areas of Interest

I recently co-edited Constructing the International Economy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010), with Rawi Abdelal and Craig Parsons, which surveys different types 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.

My most recent book single authored book, which ties many of these themes together, is Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (New York: Oxford University Press 2013) which interrogates the return to prominence of the ideas of financial orthodoxy following the global financial crisis. Austerity has been translated into nine languages.

Next year (2015) sees the publication with Oxford University Press of an group project edited by myself and Matthias Matthijs called, The Future of the Euro

I have also published on subjects as diverse as the Varieties of Capitalism school, the film The Matrix, the efficiency/equality trade off, and how American school districts change as an example of institutional change, as can be seen in this CV found on this site.