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Concepts and Translations of Political Economy and Economics

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  • Hun-Chang Lee

    () (Korea University)

Abstract

Nowadays, the terms economics and political economy are translated in Korea, Japan, and China as Kyeongjaehak(which originally meant statecraft for the people's welfare) and Jeongchikyeongjaehak, respectively. However, the translation of Kyeongjaehak, in fact, originated in the very concept of political economy. The etymology of the translated terms for political economy in India and China actually accords with the original concept of political economy prior to the establishment of modern economics, while that in the Arabic region is congenial to the definition of economy. These terms were born in the heyday of ancient thoughts, and have been reborn in today's definitions with the establishment of modern economics. Originating in the Greek oikonomia, literally "management of household," the adjective political was added to describe the management of polis or state. With the advent of Classical economics, the term political economy became a social science to study of the laws of production and distribution and of the nature of wealth. Later, Neoclassical economists, who sought to establish the study of the economy upon mathematical methodology, and who aimed to analyze behaviors of households and firms regardless of politics, replaced the term 'political economy' with 'economics' without the adjective political. The etymology of Kyeongjaehak, which first appeared as a translated term in an English-Japanese dictionary published in 1862, shares some aspects with the Classical concept of political economy, but is irrelevant to the Neoclassical definition of economics. This term ultimately triumphed over other translations, such as Ejaehak(which originally meant the study of governing wealth), which captured the Classical and Neoclassical concepts more appropriately. In China, where there were more competing translated terms than there were in Japan, the term Kyeongjaehak was generally considered as an inappropriate translation, but was, nonetheless, adopted in the end. As for Korea, strongly influenced by modern sciences from Japan since the 1880s, there was little resistance against the adoption of the Japanese translation. The etymology of political economy, as a subject of translation, along with the innate nature of the early Classical economics' moral philosophy, helped the term Kyeongjaehak to prevail. As people better understood economics, both the Japanese and the Chinese thought that the meaning of Kyeongjaehak was too broad to capture the concept of political economy or economics, while the alternative term, Ejaehak, by contrast, was too confining. At that time, the three, backward East-Asian countries viewed the utility of economic science as serving the development of national economy and this goal was best represented by the Chinese characters Kyeongjaehak, which was the key determinant for its final victory. In sum, the selection of Kyeongjaehak as the translated term for economic science was affected by the evolution of the modern science at the beginning, while, at the finishing point, it reflected the demands of the times. Since the late twentieth century, mainstream economics has extended its fields of study to embrace history, institutions, politics, culture, etc. In that sense, the broad term Kyeongjaehak seems more appropriate for the translation of economics rather than Ejaehak, which is better suited as a term for the confined research-area of Neoclassical economics before the middle twentieth century.

Suggested Citation

  • Hun-Chang Lee, 2008. "Concepts and Translations of Political Economy and Economics," Discussion Paper Series 0807, Institute of Economic Research, Korea University.
  • Handle: RePEc:iek:wpaper:0807
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    File URL: http://econ.korea.ac.kr/~ri/WorkingPapers/w0807.pdf
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    Keywords

    Economics; Political economy; Oikonomikos; Translation;

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