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Free Content Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?

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In the history of technological development, why didn't other regions keep up with Europe? This is an important question, as one learns almost as much from failure as from success. The one civilization that was in a position to match and even anticipate the European achievement was China. China had two chances: first, to generate a continuing, self-sustaining process of scientific and technological advance on the basis of its indigenous traditions and achievements; and second, to learn from European science and technology once the foreign "barbarians" entered the Chinese domain in the sixteenth century. China failed both times. What explains the first failure? I stress the role of the market: the fact that enterprise was free in Europe while China lacked a free market and institutionalized property rights; that in Europe innovation worked and paid, while the Chinese state was always stepping in to interfere with private enterprise. As for the second failure, China's cultural triumphalism combined with petty downward tyranny made it a singularly bad learner.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2006

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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