On the Political Economy of Jordan

In the 1990s, international political economy (IPE) was taught in three parts. First came liberalism, especially classical liberalism, which is marked by the pursuit of capitalism and free trade that binds nations together economically. Second came nationalism, which focuses on more traditional notions of power and war. Third came Marxism or socialism, which is marked by concerns of equity and corrective wealth distribution among groups and populations. While this structure is simple, clear, and has formed the foundation for multiple IPE lectures, its ability to support a country analysis is less clear.

More recent IPE scholars, Frieden and Lake, have partaken from a separate set of intellectual lenses that focus first on national versus international explanations, and second on institutional and society-based explanations. This results in four separate perspectives: the (1) national institutional, (2) national societal, (3) international institutional, and (4) international societal. This leads to a natural tension between “throwing the state out” with analyses of political economic phenomena that focus on international and societal explanations and then “bringing the state back in” by realizing that nations and institutions still have a key role to play.

The political economy of Jordan provides an excellent test case for these intellectual lenses. Jordan has been known as the Hashemite Kingdom since 1921. However Jordan, being a cooperative and benevolent country, has accepted Palestinians who have lived there for 50 years and has already accepted a million Syrians with more on the way. International aid has helped Jordan to accept these refugees, but at what point do these people stop being refugees and become Jordanians? At what point is it incumbent upon the Jordanian government to take the needs, wants, and desires of this refugee population into consideration? What does a country look like when it refugees become an ever larger portion of the population, which is not represented by the government? How long will the international donor community help Jordan with its refugees when there are so many other competing priorities? How many refugees can “stable” countries like Jordan accept before they become unstable too? And what is the relationship between refugee populations and national stability? Thinking seriously about these questions reveals that the long-term stability of the few remaining stable Middle East and North Africa (MENA) islands may not be as sanguine and stable as some would lead one to believe.

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