Before attempting to answer the question above, it is important to summarize Caporaso’s and Levine’s approach to understanding political economy. The authors, as I understand it, present more than one source of power in economic relationships as they attempt to define politics and economics and present a new conceptualization of political economy.
While there are various and different approaches to examine political economy, Caporaso and Levine provide an interesting and intriguing conceptualization to understanding it. This novel conceptualization steps from the authors’ firm conviction that it is important to deem politics and economics as categorically discrete. In so saying, they suggest that political economy should not be perceived as the relationship between politics and economics, and that they should be thought of as separate from political economy.
The authors present an alternative approach to understanding politics and economics in an attempt to support their argument; that is, the notion of ‘separateness’ in understanding political economy. To begin with, they provide three different but overlapping conceptions of politics: politics as government, politics as the public, and politics as authoritative allocations of values. As a matter of fact, I think that each of these conceptions can be a significant source of power in economic relationships.
First, politics as government refers to the formal political machinery of a particular country which includes its institutions, laws, public policies, as well as key actors. In fact, I think that the government can be a vital source of power in economic relationships through its political and economic policies, and through the interaction with other ‘key actors’ such as the media and interests groups. These actors can, as Carporaso and Levine argue, affect and be affected by government policies. However, I believe that interests groups are more likely to affect the government’s policies and less likely to be affected by them. Moreover, most governments tend to keep the media under control as a powerful political tool to carry out their political and economic agenda. Clearly, I think that the government is a significant source of power in economic relationships either as an active participant or a passive one. In other words, the government as an active participant can be an effective vehicle by which and through which economic relationships are created and sustained. In addition, the government can also establish and implement efficient policies to develop the economy and achieve prosperity. On the other hand, a government may choose to be passive through supporting interest groups and carrying out their plans without attempting to create its own. A government may resort to such passivity to sustain its existence or find a ready cash to save the state from a financial or economic crisis. In any rate, the government is a powerful source of power in economic relationships because it plays a key role in establishing economic structures as well as creating and maintaining rules.
The second conception of politics according to Caporaso and Levine is politics as the public. First, the authors point out that the line between the private and the public is so fine that we cannot make a clear distinction between the two. Reflecting on this issue brings my attention to C. Wright Mills’ interesting distinction between the concepts of “public issues” and “private troubles.” It is a slightly different approach from that of Caporaso’s and Levine’s, but, I think, it helps in understanding the idea of politics as the public. For example, is unemployment a private trouble or a public issue? In fact, unemployment is often framed as a private trouble by governments which usually relate the problem to peoples’ character rather than treating it as public issue that require an efficient government policy to resolve it. In fact, the media has a strong impact on the people who cannot help accepting their private troubles as their own personal problems which can be economic, social or political. All in all, the public and the private issues are interwoven and the government, again, emerges as a source of power in both economic and social relationships.
The last conception of politics, according to Caporaso and Levine, is concerned with the authoritative allocation of values. They argue that both politics and economics can serve as allocation mechanisms; however, the political mechanism is the one that involves authority through decision making. The state institutions and the market are both sources of power in economic relationships. To illustrate, state institutions enforce rules through state agents which work to establish and maintain strong economic relationships that remain imperative for the sustainability of the market. To sum up, the three conceptions of politics overlap, but the focal point is the government and it is the source of power in economic relationships because it can manipulate the public and it maintains authority.
The authors combine these three conceptions of politics with other three conceptions of economics. Together, the six conceptions present the foundation for an alternative approach to political economy. While the conception of economic allocation focuses on rationalizing the use of means available to satisfy the needs, the conception of material provisioning is about the material provisioning of wants through the production and reproduction of goods. However, the third alternative conception seems to be vague and difficult to absorb. Although I agree with the authors that politics is subordinate to economics, the idea of separating the two, even institutionally, is rather hard to grasp. For my own part, I consider politics and economics to be two sides of the same coin. An attempt to separate one from the other will result in having a useless fake coin. To put it differently, a state where its economic and political institutions are separate would not function properly and effectively.
To conclude, answers to the question above could be found more in the conceptions of politics suggested by Caporaso and Levine. There are many sources of power in economic relationships; these sources interact with each other and cannot operate separately. They include state, government, public, media, and interests groups.