Economics and Business

Explaining the Economic Trajectories of Civilizations: The Systemic Approach


A civilization constitutes a durable social system of complementary traits. Some of the complementarities of any given civilization are between elements of “material” life and ones commonly treated as integral to “culture.” Identifying the mechanisms responsible for a civilization’s observed trajectory involves, therefore, causal relationships that cross the often-postulated “culturalmaterial” divide. Complementarities make it difficult to transplant institutions across civilizations on a piecemeal basis. They imply that reforms designed to jump start an economy will fail unless they are comprehensive. Civilizational analysis can benefit, therefore, from attention to institutional complementarities, including ones involving both cultural and material variables.

Islam & Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism

Timur Kuran, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004. 194 pages.

In this brilliant contribution, Timur Kuran weaves six chapters into a sound critique of the assumptions and practices of Islamic economics. In essence, he attacks the very foundation of Islamic economics, the prohibition of interest, and then extends his critique to whether Islam’s traditional redistributive instruments in achieving contemporary economic goal is feasible. The author’s intention is not simply to critique Islamic economics, but to bring the ideas espoused by the discipline into the realm of  mainstream social sciences and encourage serious scholarly consideration. The first two chapters summarize the basic tenets of Islamic economics while grounding the discipline in two central claims: that existing economic systems have failed and that Islamic history proves the Islamic system’s superiority over others. Kuran dismisses the latter by revealing that modern economic problems had historical counterparts, that many concepts and methods utilized by Islamic economists originated outside the Islamic world, and that applying ancient solutions to present problems is an inadequate approach.

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