Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

The Significance of Economic Theorizing for Welfare and Economic Growth in History

Bertram Schefold, Goethe-University, Frankfurt

Economic history emphasises the importance of scientific knowledge for the explanation of success in economic development. By contrast, the relevance of economic knowledge for the creation of institutions and policies favourable to growth receives much less attention. I investigate this problematic in a joint project, situated in the Forschungskolleg Bad Homburg, with a Sinologist of my University, Prof. Iwo Amelung. We confront Chinese and European experiences, going in steps from the present back to Antiquity. We are interested in the comparison of both strands of thought, because we believe that they might help to explain the divergence of Chinese and European paths in the 18th century; they express the development of culturally characteristic conceptual frameworks that remain relevant for the understanding of the Chinese and European economies in their specific contexts. Even though modern liberalism and the emergence of Chinese Marxism appear to have rendered traditional economic thought irrelevant, a closer examination reveals that it offers intellectual resources, which are tapped consciously or unconsciously, and it thus continues to play an important role up to today. I organized three special sessions on these connected topics at the last ESHET Conference at Antwerp; they were attended by, among others, six Chinese historians of economic thought who had not been at ESHET conferences before. I presented a paper on the Yantie lun. At the coming conference at Madrid I should like to speak about the fundamental problem of how to identify the implicit and explicit economic knowledge that may have been conducive to economic growth in the European past. A first draft of the paper, written in German, begins with a discussion of five reasons why economic history tends to neglect economic knowledge as a factor of development. It then analyses examples of manifest influences of the economic knowledge known at a particular time on contemporaneous events.


Keywords: History of economic thought and economic development, implicit knowledge

Paper file