The Political Economy of States of Emergency

14(1) Oregon Review of International Law (2012) 85-129

48 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2012

See all articles by John Reynolds

John Reynolds

National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Date Written: June 30, 2012


The central concern of this article is the manner in which emergency doctrine infiltrates the realm of global political economy. This is considered in terms of centre-periphery relations and Third World development, as well as with regard to the endurance of finance capitalism. Are ‘emergency’ economic measures necessary in the public interest to stabilise and sustain an indispensable financial system? Or does undue deference to capitalist institutions obfuscate the notion of the common good by reifying elitist misappropriations of the ‘commons’? My approach entails a theoretical and historical deconstruction of the economic state of emergency, expounding the use of emergency powers and rhetoric as instruments of economic regulation and class subjugation against a number of significant and related backdrops: the intimate relationship that exists between capitalism and imperialism, the function of economic governance as an apparatus of security, and the susceptibility of capitalist economies to periodic ‘crisis.’ The article charts the use of emergency powers in the economic sphere as long entwined in colonial law and policy, and analyses the evolution of the economic state of emergency through the inter-war period in Europe and North America. This provides the necessary context for an appraisal of the versatile role played by emergency doctrines in sustaining structural economic relations and facilitating the ideological thrust of the international financial institutions. A Machiavellian mindset of ‘opportunity in crisis’ comes to the fore, with emergency authority serving as a vehicle for the implementation of neoliberal doctrine.

Keywords: state of emergency, economic emergency, exception, political economy, colonialism, capitalism, international law, international financial institutions

JEL Classification: K33, F02

Suggested Citation

Reynolds, John, The Political Economy of States of Emergency (June 30, 2012). 14(1) Oregon Review of International Law (2012) 85-129, Available at SSRN:

John Reynolds (Contact Author)

National University of Ireland, Maynooth ( email )

Maynooth, County Kildare

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