Award-winning economist discusses political economy

Fathma Rahman, Reporter

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Author and economist Dani Rodrik spoke on economic conditions under varying forms of government at an event sponsored by a new Northwestern research group Thursday afternoon.

Rodrik, an international political economy professor at Harvard University, focused heavily on distinguishing between a liberal and electoral democracy in terms of three sets of rights: property, political and civil. Electoral democracy is only a combination of protected property and political rights, whereas a liberal democracy consists of all three of those rights, Rodrik said.

“Civil rights is what defines liberal democracy,” he said.

Rodrik also categorized society into three groups: propertied elite, a majority and a minority. There are elements of political rights that slide into economics, which Rodrik said interferes with property rights because those with political power set taxes, create regulations and possess other influences.

“Liberal democracy is an unlikely outcome of any democratic settlement that’s a result of bargaining between the elite, who have the resources, and the majority, who have the numbers,” Rodrik said. “As a result, it’s unbelievable that (liberal democracy) even exists.”

The Global Capitalism & Law Research Group is a new research group funded by the Buffett Institute for Global Studies that develops recommendations on political economy issues. The research group sponsored the event, said Erin Lockwood, a political science PhD student and Global Capitalism & Law graduate student coordinator. About 75 students attended the event, she said.

“This was actually in the works since last year, and we thought it was a perfect inaugural speaker for this group given his work on not just political economy, but looking at globalization in political economy and the ways in which these often liberal norms are taken out of a variety of political contexts,” Lockwood said.

An author of three books, Rodrik used his 2015 book titled, “Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science” as a focal point for the lecture.

Though Weinberg sophomore Zain Syedain said he found the event interesting, he also saw aspects that could use improvement.

“At the PhD level, there’s a whole lot of math that goes into this sort of thing — so at that point, I was pretty much completely lost,” Syedain said. “In these sort of talks, while it’s not really possible in a room where a bunch of undergraduates come in, it would probably be easier to get around to more nuances and investigation of what (Rodrik) was trying to explain in a more closed, smaller setting.”

Due to the specificity of the lecture, Lockwood said she was happily surprised with the undergraduate turnout.

“I know a lot of them were coming from Jordan Gans-Morse’s political economy class, so I hope this was a good supplement to what they’re learning in his class and also an illustration of how you can keep pushing these ideas further,” she said.

Twitter: @fathma_rahman