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A 'third culture' in economics? An essay on Smith, Confucius and the rise of China

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  • Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten

Abstract

China's rise drives a growing impact of China on economics. So far, this mainly works via the force of example, but there is also an emerging role of Chinese thinking in economics. This paper raises the question how far Chinese perspectives can affect certain foundational principles in economics, such as the assumptions on individualism and self-interest allegedly originating in Adam Smith. I embark on sketching a 'third culture' in economics, employing a notion from cross-cultural communication theory, which starts out from the observation that the Chinese model was already influential during the European enlightenment, especially on physiocracy, suggesting a particular conceptualization of the relation between good government and a liberal market economy. I relate this observation with the current revisionist view on China's economic history which has revealed the strong role of markets in the context of informal institutions, and thereby explains the strong performance of the Chinese economy in pre-industrial times. I sketch the cultural legacy of this pattern for traditional Chinese conceptions of social interaction and behavior, which are still strong in rural society until today. These different strands of argument are woven together in a comparison between Confucian thinking and Adam Smith, especially with regard to the 'Theory of Moral Sentiments', which ends up in identifying a number of conceptual family resemblances between the two. I conclude with sketching a 'third culture' in economics in which moral aspects of economic action loom large, as well as contextualized thinking in economic policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, 2011. "A 'third culture' in economics? An essay on Smith, Confucius and the rise of China," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 159, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:fsfmwp:159
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, 2009. "Kulturelle Hybridisierung und Wirtschaftstransformation in China," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 115, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    2. Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, 2008. "Neuroeconomics, naturalism and language," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 108, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
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    4. Ansgar Belke & Thorsten Polleit, 2005. "(How) Do Stock Market Returns React to Monetary Policy? - An ARDL Cointegration Analysis for Germany," Diskussionspapiere aus dem Institut für Volkswirtschaftslehre der Universität Hohenheim 253/2005, Department of Economics, University of Hohenheim, Germany.
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    Cited by:

    1. Inklaar, Robert & Koetter, Michael & Noth, Felix, 2012. "Who's afraid of big bad banks? Bank competition, SME, and industry growth," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 197, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    2. Dietmar Harhoff & Elisabeth Mueller & John Reenen, 2014. "What are the Channels for Technology Sourcing? Panel Data Evidence from German Companies," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(1), pages 204-224, March.
    3. Boeing, Philipp & Mueller, Elisabeth & Sandner, Philipp, 2012. "What makes Chinese firms productive? Learning from indigenous and foreign sources of knowledge," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 196, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    4. Kostka, Genia & Moslener, Ulf & Andreas, Jan G., 2011. "Barriers to energy efficiency improvement: Empirical evidence from small-and-medium sized enterprises in China," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 178, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    5. Alexander Libman & Vladimir Kozlov & André Schultz, 2012. "Roving Bandits in Action: Outside Option and Governmental Predation in Autocracies," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(4), pages 526-562, November.
    6. Yu, Xiaofan, 2011. "A spatial interpretation of the persistency of China's provincial inequality," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 171, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    7. Böing, Philipp & Müller, Elisabeth, 2012. "Technological Capabilities of Chinese Enterprises: Who is Going to Compete Abroad?," Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62081, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Confucianism; Adam Smith; physiocracy; collectivism and individualism; social relations in China; morality; economy of Imperial China;

    JEL classification:

    • B11 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Preclassical (Ancient, Medieval, Mercantilist, Physiocratic)
    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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