Unit Autonomy and Cross-National Analysis

Does the rise of complex governance upend traditional IPE research? A core assumption of many mainstream approaches (and their econometric counterparts) is that states act independently to reach key positions on issues ranging from trade to monetary policy. Given the explosion of research on diffusion, hierarchy, and interdependence, however, such methodological nationalism seems increasingly difficult to sustain. Instead, states find their decision-making autonomy increasingly restricted by international and transnational forces.

In his new research note, “European Union Member States in Cross-National Analyses: The Dangers of Neglecting Supranational Policymaking,” Joe Weinberg reminds us of the pitfalls to neglecting these complex dynamics in large N analysis. In particular, he isolates the case of the European Union, in which member states have abdicated traditional domestic decision-making in many key sectors. This does not mean that member state interests do not matter but that they often cannot simply be modeled in the standard 2-level game analogy. This new reality becomes particularly problematic when states (like EU members) that are engaged in complex governance arrangements are included in data sets with states that are not. Weinberg, then, is part of a next generation of scholars grappling with the methodological and theoretical challenges of studying the political consequences of interdependence.

To further this discussion, we invited several experts to comment: Stephen Chaudoin, Manfred Elsig, Helen Milner, Thomas Oatley, and Xun Pang. These interventions underscore the importance of Weinberg’s contribution, while also suggesting a number of next steps for researchers interested in studying IPE in an era of globalization. Oatley points to the limits of many standard solutions to these problems such as spatial econometrics and calls for greater attention to network methods. At the same time, he emphasizes the importance of matching theoretical assumptions with statistical approach. Elsig emphasizes that researchers need to understand the political process within such complex governance systems. While individual member states, for example, no longer negotiate trade deals, national governments or national interest groups still exert tremendous influence on EU trade position. A key challenge of integrating the EU and other complex governance regimes into large-N models, then, is to figure out how interests and institutions do or do not comport with the more general theoretical model used. Finally, Chaudoin, Milner, and Xun focus on alternative strategies to manage such interdependences and specifically advocate for greater use of multilevel models. All of the contributors agree that scholars of globalization could do more to integrate such interdependencies into their theoretical and methodological approaches. At the same time, the contributions demonstrate the significant work that still needs to be done to really address this thorny issue. 

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