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The Political Economy of International Organizations: A Public Choice Approach.

The theory of public choice is like the battery commercial--it's still going after all these years. This collection edited by Vaubel and Willett brings together the work some of the leading scholars in the area of international political economy. The papers resulted from a conference held at Claremont in November 1989. The mix of the papers between European and U.S. authors is about 50/50, and the mix of papers between theory/methodology and implications is also about 50/50. The papers cover a variety of issues in international political economy, including international public goods and externalities, international negotiations, international organizations and bureaucracy, foreign aid, GATT, Law of the Sea, international energy programs, and still others. The authors are all or mostly economists. The volume is quite good and useful, particularly some of the applied papers; anyone working in this area will want to have this book.

The book appropriately deals with problems of endogenous international political economy. In this setting, to the extent that international cooperation emerges, it is a function of a complex pattern of behavior and lobbying by affected parties. The international response to the ozone problem is obviously endogenous since benefits are diffuse and costs are concentrated. Cooperation will naturally be more costly to obtain in such cases. There are, however, cases where the problem for international cooperation emerges in the face of exogenous events. If a meteor were predicted to hit the earth in a random fashion, international cooperation would be called for in order to avoid such a disaster. Cooperation in this case will be more natural and less costly because there is no one lobbying for the rights of the meteor. Thus, internationnal cooperation in areas such as forecasting and responding to natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanos, hurricanes, droughts, and the like) will be more easily achieved than in endogenous policy problems. The natural provision of international public goods is an area worthy of study in its own right.

My only up-close look at international negotiations involved the Law of the Sea negotiations in the early 1970s. My reaction was that these negotiations were basically a waste of resources. I came to view these negotiations (which are still going on!) as a procedure through which governments could thwart the emergence of Coasian solutions to Law of the Sea issues, such as deep seabed mining. These negotiations were conducted under the auspices of the united Nations, and that is precisely where the problems originated. The United Nations admits outside interests (landlocked countries) to issues of coastal management and the like. The fact that some countries will seek to turn such negotiations into a redistribution feast should surprise no one. This is the central problem of international organizations today. We have eclipsed an older age in which directly affected parties engaged in negotiations to settle international disputes. I suspect that a thorough analysis of international organizations from a public choice/political economy perspective would conclude that the would function quite nicely without them. This is heresy, of course, but that does not make the argument any less compelling. The trick is to convert negative into positive-sum negotiations, or better yet, to explain why large countries, like the U.S., ever fell for the United Nations.
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Author:Tollison, Robert D.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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