Explaining East Asian economic organization: Toward a Weberian institutional perspective.
Опубликовано на портале: 18-12-2009
Theory and Society.
Conclusion: Social theorists are challenged to explain an increasingly complex economic
order. It is clear that old theories that posited a developmental sequence from undeveloped
to industrialized cannot explain the diverse patterns of industrialization that exist.
Certainly, Japan is as developed as Western nations but its patterns of development,
its economic norms, and its industrial practices are substantially different from
the United States and even its Asian neighbors in Taiwan and South Korea. For example,
the fact that Japan has the largest banks in the world, and Taiwan relatively few
and weak ones (despite the world's largest per capita foreign reserve holdings),
cannot be explained only by recourse to market or state factors, although each play
a role. Both countries were literally awash in money in the 1980s, and both countries
are clearly capitalist societies where banking institutions are assumed to be critical
to economic development, as they have been in the West. But more than market and
political economy factors are at work here.
In Japan, historically developed institutional factors, dating from before the Meiji
Restoration and industrial revolution, created conditions for business group self-financing.
Modern-day keiretsu, such as Sumitomo and Mitsui, with their huge banks as centerpieces,
trace their origins to pre-industrial merchant houses under family ownership. Inheritance
practices in Japan are based on primogeniture, inheritance of the entire fortune
by the eldest son. This practice allowed merchant family fortunes to remain intact
under the stewardship of the heir. Successful families thus had huge sums of money
available to finance the businesses of affiliated branches operating under the badge
of the mother house. The descendents of the zaibatsu merchant houses, the keiretsu,
continue to rely on their own sources of finance, now institutionalized in banks
that serve their credit and other financial needs. To see large banks encapsulated
within business networks as only the outcome of distorted market conditions, or as
only the result of a powerful business class, misses the institutional origins and
overlooks the contemporary institutional underpinnings of the Japanese banking system.
Ironically, the weakness of Taiwanese banks can also be traced to a strong family
system. Chinese societies practice partible inheritance, that is, division of a family
estate equally among all sons. As a result, families divide their fortunes every
generation, mitigating against the development of large sums of money. Instead, there
is great pressure within families to develop multiple businesses so that at the death
of the family head, each son can claim an independent enterprise. Because all Chinese
families face the problem of setting up children in business (being an employee is
not a desirable status in Taiwan as it is in Japan), a range of informal lending
arrangements have arisen within families and among friends to generate investment
capital. Strong social norms dictate that one assist financially a kin member or
close friend. Banks play a relatively minor role in Taiwan because alternative institutional
arrangements, also with preindustrial origins, have obviated the need for banks for
some financial functions. Again, market factors are important to understanding the
strong curb market and weak formal banking system in Taiwan, and political economy
factors, notably the absence of a strong central bank, are also significant. But
an institutional explanation integrates these factors into an explanation that begins
with the character of the society being explained. We need theories that can account
for difference without reducing cases to unique instances, that do not presume the
individualistic character of Western social orders, and that are sensitive to an
array of ideal as well as material factors operating in different locations. Although
political economy, market, and culture theories each have contributions to make,
an institutional perspective of the type I outline may be especially suited to the
comparative analysis of emerging world economic organization. I think, ironically,
that a sensitivity to institutional factors may yield better theories of the West.
Rather than assume that the United States and Europe are the exemplars of advanced
capitalism, the closest empirical instances of the idealized competitive market,
Japan and other Asian nations are suggesting that the West is simply one form of
capitalist economic development, an expression no doubt, of the West's own institutional
heritage. When we relinquish ethnocentric perspectives we can begin to look at ourselves
and our own institutional heritage more clearly.