This page provides a descriptive overview of the core areas of my research. For a complete listing & links to my publications and working papers, please see my Curriculum Vitae.

My research examines the evolution of political institutions and the effect they exert on international relations and domestic politics. I seek to answer big, substantively important questions: How do international institutions change when confronted by rising powers? What causes financial crises? What explains variation in energy and climate change policy? Japan features prominently in my research: I am a scholar of Japanese politics and foreign policy, but I also use field work in Japan to generate motivating puzzles for broader research projects.


International Organizations and the World Order

One of my core research interests is contestation over international organizations and how it reshapes international politics.

My book, Renegotiating the World Order: Institutional Change in International Relations was published from Cambridge University Press in 2017. The book develops a theory of institutional renegotiation and tests it using various methods of causal inference. I argue that policy areas differ in their propensity for competition, which affects the outside options of dissatisfied states in international institutions. In turn, attractive outside options tend to facilitate institutional change - either through renegotiation or exit - while unattractive outside options tend to produce path dependence.

A related article that applies the theory to the IMF and World Bank titled “Explaining Institutional Change: Policy Areas, Outside Options, and the Bretton Woods Institutions” was published in the American Journal of Political Science. The theory also has important implications for how to understand regime complexity, as Rie Kijima and I demonstrate in “Competition and Regime Complex Architecture: Authority Relations and Differentiation in International Education,” published in the Review of International Political Economy. A policy-oriented piece focusing on the implications for China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is available in Foreign Affairs.

An author Q&A about the book is available from Stanford News Service. Excellent reviews are available in Foreign Affairs (by G. John Ikenberry), Review of International Organizations (by Felicity Vabulas), Perspectives on Politics (by Stephanie Hofmann), International Relations of the Asia Pacific (by Kazutoshi Suzuki), and The Developing Economies (by Shintaro Hamanaka).

I also have related work that focuses on Japan's role in international organizations. “Japan and International Organizations” with Nobuhiko Tamaki is published in the Oxford Handbook of Japanese Politics. You can also read about Japan's renegotiation diplomacy, role as a reformist status quo power, and shifting role in international organizations.

Related Working Papers:


The Institutional Sources of Financial Crises

Another major line of my research examines the institutional sources of financial crises. In a 2019 article in International Organization, “The IMF as a Biased Global Insurance Mechanism: Asymmetrical Moral Hazard, Reserve Accumulation, and Financial Crises,” (co-authored with Haillie Lee), we argue that political imbalances in the IMF contribute to global economic distortions and financial crises. This research is a natural extension of findings in my book, which demonstrates that the IMF has been remarkably path dependent despite shifts in underlying economic power. The article illustrates the consequences of political distortions in the IMF: countries lacking influence over the IMF, such as East Asian states, accumulate “excessive” international reserves, contributing to global economic imbalances, while influential countries pursue risky policies and experience frequent financial crises. The article exploits the unique circumstances of Taiwan’s 1980 expulsion from the IMF, which provides an important opportunity for causal inference using the synthetic control method. 

In another article in International Organization, “Democracy and Financial Crisis,” I argue that several features of democratic government that are generally considered advantages – executive constraints, accountability, protection of civil liberties, and large winning coalitions – have unintended consequences that increase the likelihood of financial instability and crises.  The association between democracy and financial crises is a previously unrecognized, striking empirical regularity that can be traced back at least two centuries. 

Extending this work, in “COVID-19 and the Politics of Crisis,” also from International Organization, I argue that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to refocus scholarly attention on the politics of crisis. I argue that the traditional division of international relations scholarship into international political economy and security has contributed to the relative neglect of non-militarized crises like pandemics. Drawing on often disparate literatures on finance, energy and climate change, natural disasters, pandemics, and violent conflict, I propose a broad research program around the politics of crisis, focusing on puzzles related to causes, responses, and transformations.

In earlier work, I examined how Japan responded to the Asian financial crisis by proposing an Asian Monetary Fund. I have also written on how the responses of Japan and the United States differed in their respective financial crises in “The Politics of Financial Crisis Response in Japan and the United States,” (co-authored with Hiro Takinami) published in the Japanese Journal of Political Science

Related Working Papers:


The Effect of Institutions on Energy and Climate Change

My book manuscript examines the institutional politics of energy and climate change. How do international and domestic institutions affect policies to mitigate energy use and climate change? Conventional wisdom holds that climate change mitigation is best thought of as a global public goods problem: locally concentrated costs and globally diffuse benefits necessitate international institutional solutions, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While this proposition is theoretically sound, the behavior of states has diverged in puzzling ways: governments under no international obligation to reduce emissions have sometimes implemented aggressive policy responses, while participation in climate change agreements is not strongly associated with emissions reductions. Paralleling the theory from my first book, I argue that the interaction of institutions and outside options has important consequences for energy policy outcomes. Countries that successfully conserve energy and reduce emissions tend to do so by imposing high energy prices on consumers and redistributing the consequent revenues or rents to organized interest groups. Related work has been published as “Why Nations Lead or Lag in Energy Transitions” in Science, co-authored with Jonas Meckling, Jared Finnegan, and Florence Metz.

Japanese energy and climate change policy is an important focus of my book and related work. “A Casualty of Political Transformation? The Politics of Japanese Energy Efficiency in the Transportation Sector” in the Journal of East Asian Studies explores how Japan achieved remarkable energy efficiency in the transportation sector, and the institutional reasons why these gains have not been sustained. A more technical treatment of Japanese transportation efficiency policy is provided in “Energy Efficiency in the Japanese Transport Sector,” (co-authored with the late Lee Schipper) published in Energy Policy. In “The Politics of Energy and Climate Change in Japan under Abe: Abenergynomics,” published in Asian Survey, Trevor Incerti and I examine why climate change policy has lagged under the Abe government. “Japan’s Opportunity to Lead” (with Daniel Aldrich and Mary McCarthy) in Nature Climate Change draws from this work and argues that the Japanese government must do more to match its green rhetoric with concrete actions.

In “The Fukushima Disaster and Japan’s Nuclear Plant Vulnerability in Comparative Perspective,” (co-authored with Kenji Kushida and Trevor Incerti) in Environmental Science and Technology, we examine the 3/11/2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and use unique characteristics of the disaster to assess whether Japanese nuclear plants were more vulnerable to inundation than their international counterparts.

I have also written survey articles on the politics of energy: “The Politics of Energy,” (co-authored with Llewelyn Hughes) and published in the Annual Review of Political Science, and “The Politics of Energy in Japan,” in the Oxford Handbook of Energy Politics (co-authored with Trevor Incerti).

Related Working Papers:


Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy

I have an active research agenda on contemporary Japanese politics and foreign policy. The research described above all draws on in-depth case study work on Japan. In "Japan: The Harbinger State," published in the Japanese Journal of Political Science festschrift issue for Susan Pharr, I survey research on contemporary Japanese politics and foreign policy and argue that Japan offers a critical opportunity to develop theoretical insights, assess early empirical evidence, and offer policy lessons about emerging challenges and the political contestation surrounding them.

I have also organized several collaborative projects that examine contemporary Japanese politics. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) made history by decisively defeating the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and ruling Japan from 2009-2012. I organized a 2011 conference at Stanford University on the DPJ and also participated in a project that conducted hearings with 30 top DPJ politicians, including all three former Prime Ministers, to evaluate the policymaking processes of the party. This work contributed to a special issue of the Journal of East Asian Studies, "Japan Under the DPJ: The Paradox of Political Change Without Policy Change" (with Ethan Scheiner) and edited volume, Japan under the DPJ: The Politics of Transition and Governance (with Kenji Kushida). This work analyzed what we call the “paradox of political change without policy change,” which saw the DPJ come to power in a sweeping victory and yet descend quickly into internecine conflict and policy paralysis. We argue that institutional constraints, particularly the nearly co-equal status and divergent electoral rules of the Japanese upper and lower houses, exacerbated intraparty conflict and hampered the DPJ’s legislative agenda. You can also read my related work on the DPJ's election strategy and transportation policy.

The Abe government, which ruled Japan from 2012-2020, represented an important turning point in Japanese politics and political economy. Along with Takeo Hoshi, I edited a volume The Political Economy of the Abe Government and Abenomics Reforms (Cambridge University Press). We argue that the Abe government was the clearest manifestation of a new Japanese political system that represents a full transition away from the old, 1955 system. This system is characterized by a strong prime minister with centralized authority, careful management of the prime minister’s popularity, and a focus on policies with broad, popular appeal. I also contributed a related piece to the Washington Post Monkey Cage reflecting on Abe’s legacy. In other work, I examine Abe's foreign policy legacy, energy and climate change policy under Abe, policies toward international organizations, and Japan’s leadership in the liberal international order.




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Phillip Y. Lipscy
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON M5S 3K7
E-mail: [email protected]