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"Size Matters"

"Size Matters"

Magazine or Newspaper Article, The American Interest, volume 3, issue 6

July-August 2008

Author: Richard N. Rosecrance, Adjunct Professor; International Security Program; Director, Project on U.S.-China Relations

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security


"As the American political system hurtles toward its quadrennial encounter with the oracle of democracy, it is worth our while to take stock of the country's place in a world beset by bewilderingly rapid change. (Heaven knows none of the candidates will bother to do this.) I want to suggest that an old yet generally neglected subject remains particularly relevant: the relationship between the size of political units and the effective scale of systems of economic production and exchange. Another way to describe this relationship is by recourse to the hoary scholarly phrase "political economy", a term of art that has unfortunately gone out of style.

American strategists and statesmen have sometimes been attuned to this subject. In their approach to Europe just after World War II, American leaders understood that political identity and scope, national security, and economic scale were intertwined variables in defining power on the global stage. For most of the Cold War period, however, American statesmen tended to think of politico-military affairs and economic matters as dancing on opposite sides of the ballroom floor. Henry Kissinger famously admitted his lack of familiarity and expertise with economic issues and just as famously implied that, after all, they weren’t very important compared to decisions about war and peace in the nuclear age.

Perhaps that was so in 1968 and even 1988, but it is certainly not so in 2008. The relationship between the size of political units and the scale of economic activity is again critically important...."


Richard Rosecrance teaches economics and security and leads the project (with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) on long-term U.S.-China relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Rosecrance, Richard. "Size Matters." The American Interest, July-August 2008.

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