‘Realistic idealism and the project of Political Economy’ – An Inaugural lecture by Professor Mark Pennington


  • 24/03/2015
This lecture delivered by Professor Mark Pennington, a trustee of the IEA, will analyse the role of ‘ideal theorising’ in economic and political theory. ‘Ideal’ theories make claims about the political and economic arrangements we should live under and frequently act as a benchmark when judging proposals for institutional reform. Professor Pennington will argue that the interdisciplinary project of political economy is concerned about identifying the constraints within which ideal theorising should take place. Drawing on his career’s work in the classical liberal tradition he will explore how an appreciation of the problems generated by limited human rationality and limited benevolence may guide a realistic utopianism.

NOTE: This lecture takes place at King’s College London.


Mark Pennington is Professor of Public Policy & Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy, Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy at King’s College London. His work lies at the intersection of economic and political theory with an emphasis on the implications of bounded rationality for institutional design. He has a particular interest in the classical liberal tradition and has drawn on insights derived from Hayek, Coase and public choice theory. His earlier work focussed on the political economy of urban and environmental planning, exploring the potential for property rights approaches in addressing environmental externalities. Subsequent work has examined the relationship between markets and social capital, and the implications of bounded rationality for contemporary theories of deliberative democracy. His most recent work has included an analysis of the behavioural assumptions underlying Elinor Ostrom’s work on common pool resources, and a critique of liberal egalitarian and civic republican arguments in favour of ‘democratic education’. Mark is currently developing ideas for a new book project on the ethics of environmental markets. His last book Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy (2011) examined challenges to classical liberalism derived from neo-classical economics, communitarian political theory and egalitarian ethical theory applying the lessons learned in the context of the welfare state, international development, and environmental protection.