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Towards an Economic Theory of International Civil Society Trust, Trade and “Open Government”

  • Pier Luigi Porta


    (Department of Economics, University of Milan-Bicocca)

  • Roberto Scazzieri

    (University of Bologna)

This paper discusses the recent revival of interest in the concept of civil society and explores its possible utilization in the analysis of a cluster of relationships and processes that we shall denote with the concept of international civil society. The ambition of this paper is to cast the discussion on civil society into an original theoretical mould. In particular, the elaboration of what will be called an 'economic theory of civil society' will be attempted by following a sequence of logical steps. First, the conceptual field of civil society will be explored by considering the historical setting in which the early discussion and later evolution of the concept took place. Against such a background, we shall then proceed to outline a logical framework which decomposes the concept of civil society into a number of constitutive elements, such as trust, commercial society, division of labour, horizontal (or 'civil') network of interpersonal relationships. Such an analytical exercise is carried out with the aim of developing a consistent theoretical framework that is stimulated by the classical discussion on civil society, but attempts to develop it beyond the interpretative framework of the classical writers. The main purpose of the paper is thus analytical rather than historical: a theoretical approach is followed in order better to explore the manifold implications of the classical concepts and to bring to the fore the virtual relationships and processes that may be identified on the basis of the classical framework. In this way economic theory will be used in order to detect unknown or unexplored relationships, rather than in order to explain phenomena that are already known. Such an approach is then applied in the exploration of the concept of 'international civil society', which is considered to be especially interesting for the theoretical (virtual) possibilities it highlights, and also for the manifold implications it may have in the interpretation of current historical events.3 We demonstrate that the notion of international civil society emphasizes the role of trust, together with the relationships of trust with the 'translation procedures' of exchange and the division of labour. Against such a background, issues linked with the emergence and persistence of international money are considered. Finally the paper hints at some of the implications of the concept of international civil society in the analysis of the logical and historical conditions for 'partnership equilibrium'.

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Paper provided by University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 03.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: Apr 1997
Date of revision: Apr 1997
Handle: RePEc:mib:wpaper:03
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  1. Hagemann, Harald & Hamouda, Omar F, 1991. "Hicks on the European Monetary System," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 411-29.
  2. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
  3. Smith, Adam, 1776. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1776.
  4. Casella, Alessandra, 1993. "Trade as an Engine of Political Change. A Parable," CEPR Discussion Papers 779, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Douglass C. North, 1994. "Institutions And Productivity In History," Economic History 9411003, EconWPA.
  6. Bolton, Patrick & Roland, Gerard & Spolaore, Enrico, 1996. "Economic theories of the break-up and integration of nations," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 697-705, April.
  7. Pasinetti,Luigi, 1993. "Structural Economic Dynamics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521432825.
  8. Hicks, John, 1989. "A Market Theory of Money," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198287247, July.
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