World Cultures General Glossary
Economics

   Economics very simply is the analysis of the production and distribution of goods; this analysis, to be distinguished as economics, involves abstracting this analysis out of other areas of human, physical, or supernatural knowledge. In other words, economics divorces the production and distribution of goods from other concerns, such as politics, religion, ethics, etc., and treats production and distribution as independent human endeavors. In economic thinking, the fundamental purpose and meaning of human life is productive labor and distribution of products and services. So that there really is no such thing as economics unless you have the world view that economic behavior can be separated out from other behaviors.


Chinese Philosophy
Legalism

Enlightenment Glossary
Physiocrats

Japan Glossary
Kokogaku
   So in all respects, economics is a cultural invention rather than an objective science that applies to all cultures at all times. This is not to say that other cultures do not have what might be called economic thought, only that this economic thought is not distinguished from other ways of thinking.

   As a cultural invention, economics seems to have risen in three separate cultures: in China among the Legalists, during the European Enlightenment among the Physiocrats and crystallized in the work of Adam Smith, and in Japan at exactly the same time among Confucian scholars, such as Miura Baien, and the kokugakushu .


   The Chinese Legalists have as their starting assumption Han Fei's thesis that all humans are fundamentally evil and need to be strictly controlled through laws, hence the name "Legalists." But the Legalists also believed that the fundamental purpose of human life was productivity and any human unproductive activity was fundamentally to be discouraged. Hence, when the Legalists came to power during the Ch'in dynasty (221-207 B.C.), they attempted to eradicate "unproductive" activities: scholarship, religion, etc. This focus on productive labor led these Legalist thinkers to develop something closely approximating economics, but the difference lay in the fact that this economics, analysis of the production and distribution of goods, was not divorced from political and legal thought and in fact ran together with it. So economics is in large part collapsed with their general political theories of controlling the selfish impulses of a population through rigorous laws. Unlike the European invention of economics, the Legalist invention of economics did not treat the production and distribution of goods as if they followed natural laws but rather treated this production as if it were a chaotic mess of individual, selfish endeavors that could and should be brought under the strict control of the government.


Japan Glossary
Kami
Shinto

TokugawaJapan
Tokugawa Neo-Confucianism
   The Japanese during the eighteenth century revived some of these Legalist ideas; the invention of Japanese economics originate in the Confucian thought of Miura Baien and in the travels and theories of Kaiho Seiryo. Miura Baien and Kaiho Seiryo, like the Legalists and the European physiocrates, believed that productive labor was the fundamental unit of value in human life and, like the Chinese legalists, believed that unproductive labor should be strictly limited. However, these ideas were collapsed with the general Shinto revival which had been going on in Tokugawa Japan among the kokugakushu , or "Japanese scholars." Shinto is a religion oriented around creating gods; in this light, labor becomes an imitation of creation. The labor that most fully imitates the creation of the world by the kami , roughly translated as gods, is labor on the earth, that is, agriculture. So labor was the fundamental unit of human value because it was an imitation of a divine event and was the activity in which humans most fully realized their relation to the divine. Unlike the European invention of economics which separated out production and labor from all other areas of human endeavor, the Japanese invention of economics grounded production and labor in the religion of Shinto which produced an entirely different attitude towards labor and work among the Japanese.


Enlightenment Glossary
Classical Mechanics
Progress
   In the European Enlightenment, economics was fully divorced from all other areas of human activity. Like the Chinese Legalists and the Tokugawa thinkers, the Europeans postulated that productive labor was the ground of human value. But there were significant differences. First, European economics was based on the mechanistic world view, that the universe functioned by and large as if it were a machine. This machine could be understood and manipulated. Since the basis of the mechanistic world view in Newtonian physics is the idea that the universe is mathematical, the invention of economics asserted that economic systems are mathematical as well. Since economic systems are mechanical, rational, and mathematical, their behavior can be predicted. Neither Chinese Legalism nor Tokugawa economics oriented their thought around this predictability. So European economics are fundamentally future-oriented, and this orientation towards the future is collapsed with the Enlightenment notion of "progress," the idea that history is directed toward some undefined goal. As oriented towards progress, European economic thought asserted that the purpose of economic behavior was to increase national wealth, that is, that the purpose of an economy is to grow . As progress, there is no end to this economic growth; nations can always become even wealthier. Economics legitimates itself by proposing to analyze and explain the mechanisms which contribute to economic growth.

Richard Hooker



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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-3-97