Abstract: This chapter outlines the theoretical perspective behind a varieties of capitalism' approach to comparative political economy, emphasizing the central role of the firm as the agent of economic adjustment and the impact of the relationships it forms in the spheres of corporate governance, labor relations, skill formation, inter-corporate relations, and employeremployee relations. It develops the distinction between liberal market economies, where firm endeavours are coordinated primarily by markets, and coordinated market economies, where coordination is more heavily strategic, and explores how the institutional complementarities in these economies give rise to distinctive forms of innovation as well as comparative institutional advantages that condition the response of firms and national governments both to globalization and to the dilemmas they face in the realms of economic and social policy-making. Keywords: comparative institutional advantage, comparative political economy, coordination, economic adjustment, economic policy, globalization, institutional complementarities, skills, social policy, varieties of capitalism
Political economists have always been interested in the differences in economic and political institutions that occur across countries. Some regard these differences as deviations from best practice' that will dissolve as nations catch up to a technological or organizational leader. Others see them as the distillation of more durable historical choices for a specific kind of society, since economic institutions condition levels of social protection, the distribution of income, and the availability of collective goodsfeatures of the social solidarity of a nation. In each case, comparative political economy revolves around the conceptual frameworks used to understand institutional variation across nations. On such frameworks depend the answers to a range of important questions. Some are policy-related. What kind of economic policies will improve the performance of the economy? What will governments do in the face of economic challenges? What defines a state's capacities to meet such challenges? Other questions are firm-related. Do companies located in different nations display systematic differences in their structure and strategies? If so, what inspires such differences? How can national differences in the pace or character of innovation be explained? Some are issues about economic performance. Do some sets of institutions provide lower rates of inflation and unemployment or higher rates of growth than others? What are the trade-offs in terms of economic performance to developing one type of political economy rather than another? Finally, second-order questions about institutional change and stability are of special significance today. Can we expect technological progress and the competitive pressures of globalization to inspire institutional convergence? What factors condition the adjustment paths a political economy takes in the face of such challenges? The object of this book is to elaborate a new framework for understanding the institutional similarities and differences among the developed economies, one that offers a new and intriguing set of answers to such questions. 1 1 We concentrate here on economies at relatively high levels of development because we know them best and think the framework applies well to many problems there. However, the basic approach should also have relevance for understanding developing economies as well (cf. Bates 1997). We outline the basic approach in this Introduction. Subsequent chapters extend and apply it to a wide range of issues. In many respects, this approach is still a work-in-progress. We see it as a set of contentions that open up new research agendas rather than settled wisdom to be accepted uncritically, but, as the contributions to this volume indicate, it provides new perspectives on an unusually broad set of topics,...
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