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Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 20 No. 2 (Spring 2006)

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Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?

Article Citation

Landes, David S. 2006. "Why Europe and the West? Why Not China?" Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(2): 3-22.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.20.2.3

Abstract

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.

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Landes, David S.

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