Political Economy

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Discours sur l'oeconomie politique , 1758

Political economy (from the Greek words politeia "state, social order", oikos "house, housekeeping" and nomos "law") was the most common name for economics , economics or economics in the 19th century .

Concept and science in history

The name itself is traced back to the Traité d'économie politique, a treatise in the spirit of mercantilism that Antoine de Montchrétien published in 1615. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote an article under the heading Économie politique in 1755 for the Grande Encyclopédie, which, however, is more interested in state theory and, in the economic field, is more of a political-moral critique of the mercantilist government policy.

At the beginning of the 19th century, however, other names for such considerations of economic life were in use in various countries; and depending on the author, different terms are linked to “political economy”, such as those that were later called “pure economics” or “economic theory”. After Alfred Marshall published the Principles of Economics in 1890, the term economics became established in England and the United States .

In Germany, Max Weber spoke of social economics after his project Grundriss der Sozialökonomik was initially to be called the Handbook of Political Economy . Presumably another renaming of his work Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in “Sociology” was planned. Eugen von Philippovich , originally intended to be Weber's co-author, considers the term socio-economic or social economy to be a distancing from “people” as contained in the term “national economy” in his outline of the political economy . The collective term handed down in German for political science relates primarily to political economy to the field of state economics.

The American system of political economy is first mentioned in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton (then Treasury Secretary of the newly founded USA) in A Report on the Subject of Manufactures to Congress . It goes back to cameralistics . Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , for example, dealt with this in his treatise Societät und Wirtschaft .

The world's first professor of political economy was Joseph von Sonnenfels in Vienna in 1763 . England's first professor of political economy was Thomas Malthus in 1805 at the College of the East Indian Society in Haileybury, Hertfordshire .

Joseph A. Schumpeter represents the range of "economic theory" or actual economics the broader scope of economic thought over and prefers to define the actual area of the "economic analysis" on the one hand of economic policies , on the other hand by the economic sociology . He understands a “system of political economy” in particular to mean the representation of a closed economic and political system, in which the author relies on certain constitutive normative principles (such as Adam Smith on economic liberalism or Karl Marx on socialism ). Such a system can also contain more or less high proportions of economic analysis.

Political Economy of Marxism

For Marxism , following on from Karl Marx's critique of political economy ( Das Kapital ), “political economy” is the science of the development of social relations of production . From her point of view, she examines laws to which the production and distribution of material goods in human society are subject at their various stages of development.

The production of material goods is the natural basis of human life in their respective society. Work is the purposeful activity of man, in the process of which he changes natural products to satisfy his needs. In addition to the few general laws that apply to all forms of production in all forms of society, there are special laws that apply only within a certain mode of production. Modes of production differ in the level of development of the productive forces (man with his mental and physical abilities, object of work, work equipment, production instruments, production processes) and the production conditions, i.e. the social relationships and conditions under which the production and distribution of economic goods takes place. The relations of production are essentially shaped by the specific form of ownership and the legal structure of the power of disposal over the means of production. The relations of production determine the type and form of distribution of the goods produced. The modes of production develop and are revolutionized in that the relations of production have to be adapted to the development of the productive forces.

The analysis starts with concrete reality, that is, it begins with confronting the preparatory work of previous theorists with the respective historical and current facts and thus criticizing them. In doing so, economic categories such as commodities, money, capital, etc. are gradually “abstracted” in the theoretical-empirical analysis. The conceptual results of this abstraction process are then reassembled into a concrete totality , whereby the structural categories in their mutually contradicting relationships must reflect the theoretical and historical development and the dynamic mechanisms effective in the development process. Karl Marx uses when viewing the reproduction and growth of the processes of the economic system following the Tableau économique of François Quesnay the presentation of the economic cycle .

Political economy as a sociological and political science approach

The central theme of this approach is the distribution of social resources - money, power, legitimacy - between the various groups in the state and society as well as the mechanisms - e.g. B. market, exchange, networking - which ensure their accumulation . The focus is on the relationships between the social organization of production, the actors, institutions and organizations of the political system as well as the articulation of social politics and interventions within society. These topics are dealt with by the New Political Economy .

In sociology , the term “structured dependency”, which comes from political economy, can be used to explain dependencies through social construction processes , which are fundamentally shaped by the relationship between the group dependent on the labor market. In this sense, Schmassmann (2006) in the field of age (n) sociology comes to the conclusion that the way production is organized and the demand for labor are responsible for the sharp rise in various retirement arrangements, such as early retirement.

International Political Economy

Anglo-Saxon universities and international research institutions such as the European University Institute in Florence have set up the International Political Economics (IPE) course . It combines the subjects of International Relations with Political Economy. As an interdisciplinary field of research and study, it also combines approaches from various disciplines and schools, such as political science , economics , sociology , history and cultural studies . One of the first academic training institutions with this course was the London School of Economics , which introduced the first IPE graduate program in 1984 on the initiative of Susan Strange , Chair of International Relations . In Germany, the University of Kassel offers a corresponding English-language Master’s degree in Global Political Economy.

Cultural Political Economy

From the 1990s, research on political economy began to systematically deal with the cultural dimensions of power, the state and the economy (see Best / Paterson 2009). Processes of the production of meaning are examined here, such as those observed in companies, in the media, in markets or in politics. Economic sociologists ask about the role of knowledge, communication and values ​​and norms in the design of prices, goods and social relationships. Political scientists examine the power of language in political disputes (Jessop 2004). Science researchers analyze the influence of economic experts on markets, politics and the media. Recently, research on cultural political economy has dealt with the role of discourses in business, politics, media and science (Maeße 2013).


  • Jacqueline Best, Matthew Paterson (Eds.): Cultural political economy. Routledge, London et al. 2009, ISBN 978-0-415-48932-4 .
  • Oskar Lange : Political Economy. Volume 1: General problems. Macmillan et al., New York NY et al. 1963.
  • Bob Jessop : Critical semiotic analysis and cultural political economy. In: Critical Discourse Studies. Vol. 1, No. 2, 2005, ISSN  1740-5904 , pp. 159-174, doi : 10.1080 / 17405900410001674506 .
  • Jens Maeße (Ed.): Economy, Discourse, Government. Interdisciplinary perspectives. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, Wiesbaden 2013, ISBN 978-3-658-01293-9 .
  • Vilfredo Pareto : Cours d'économie politique. 2 parts. F. Rouge, Lausanne 1896-1897.
  • Eugen von Philippovich : Outline of the political economy. Volume 1: General Economics. 9th, revised edition. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1911.
  • Birger Priddat : Political Economy. New interface dynamics between economy, society and politics. VS, Wiesbaden 2009.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. V. Volume, Diderot, d'Alembert, 337-349, Nov. 1755.
  2. ^ Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Political Economy. Text French - German. (Hans-Peter Schneider, Brigitte Schneider-Pachaly.) Klostermann, 1977, edition: 1, ISBN 3-465-01201-1 .
  3. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Elizabeth B. Schumpeter, eds .: History of economic analysis. First part of the volume. Vandenhoeck Ruprecht, Göttingen 1965. p. 53.
  4. Wolfgang Schluchter : The emergence of modern rationalism. An analysis of Max Weber's history of the development of the Occident . 1st edition, Frankfurt am Main 1988. ISBN 3-518-28947-0 . P. 12 f.
  5. Eugen von Philippovich: Grundriß der Politischen Oekonomie . First volume: General Economics . 9th revised edition, Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1911. p. 5.
  6. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Elizabeth B. Schumpeter, eds .: History of economic analysis. First part of the volume. Vandenhoeck Ruprecht, Göttingen 1965. p. 73.
  7. Texts on Marx's Critique of Political Economy
  8. ^ Walton, John (1993): Urban Sociology: The Contribution and Limits of Political Economy. Pp. 301-320. Annual Review of Sociology 19.
  9. For example Christian Christen: Political Economy of Old Age Insurance - Critique of the reform debate about intergenerational justice, demography and funded financing . Marburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-89518-872-5 .
  10. Townsend, Peter (1981): The Structured Dependency of the Elderly: A Creation of Social Policy in the Twentieth Century. Pp. 5-28. In: Aging and Society 1.
  11. ^ Hector Schmassmann (2006): Age and Society. An analysis of aging processes under the aspect of social networks. Basel: Edition Gesowip . P. 33.
  12. Master in Global Political Economy (MA GPE) from the University of Kassel.