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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'.

Suggested Citation

  • Pier Luigi Porta & Roberto Scazzieri, 1997. "Towards an Economic Theory of International Civil Society Trust, Trade and “Open Government”," Working Papers 03, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised Apr 1997.
  • Handle: RePEc:mib:wpaper:03

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Smith, Adam, 1759. "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1759.
    2. Casella, Alessandra, 1994. "Trade as an Engine of Political Change: A Parable," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 61(243), pages 267-284, August.
    3. Pasinetti,Luigi, 1993. "Structural Economic Dynamics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521432825, December.
    4. Hicks, John, 2017. "A Market Theory of Money," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198796237.
    5. Hagemann, Harald & Hamouda, Omar F, 1991. "Hicks on the European Monetary System," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 411-429.
    6. 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.
    7. Douglass C. North, 1994. "Institutions And Productivity In History," Economic History 9411003, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Roberto Scazzieri, 2016. "Political Economy as Intellectual History: Pier Luigi Porta (1945-2016)," HISTORY OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT AND POLICY, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2016(1), pages 119-132.
    2. Pier Luigi Porta & Roberto Scazzieri, 1998. "Pietro Verri’s Contribution to the Economic Theory of the 18th Century: Commercial Society, Civil Society and Governance of the Economy," Working Papers 09, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised Feb 1998.
    3. Adrian Pabst & Roberto Scazzieri, 2012. "The political economy of civil society," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 23(4), pages 337-356, December.
    4. D'Antoni, Massimo & Pagano, Ugo, 2002. "National cultures and social protection as alternative insurance devices," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 367-386, December.
    5. Dobler, Constanze, 2009. "The impact of institutions, culture, and religion on per capita income," Violette Reihe: Schriftenreihe des Promotionsschwerpunkts "Globalisierung und Beschäftigung" 28/2009, University of Hohenheim, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Evangelisches Studienwerk.
    6. Yasir Khan & Attiya Yasmin Javid, 2015. "The Impact of Formal and Informal Institutions on Economic Performance: A Cross-Country Analysis," PIDE-Working Papers 2015:130, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.
    7. Zamagni, Stefano, 2000. "Economic reductionism as a hindrance to the analysis of structural change: scattered notes," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 11(1-2), pages 197-208, July.

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