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Confucianism and the Legalism: A Model of the National Strategy of Governance in Ancient China

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The Confucian school emphasizes family value, moral persuasions, and personal relations. Under Confucianism, there is a free-rider issue in the provision of efforts. Since national officials are chosen through personal relations, they may not be the most capable. The Legalist school emphasizes the usage of incentives and formal institutions. Under the Legalism, the ruler provides strong incentives to local officials which may lead to side effects because some activities are noncontractible. The cold-blood image of the Legalism may alien citizens. By exploiting the paternalistic relationship between the ruler and the ruled under Confucianism and the strength of institution-building under the Legalism, the ruler may benefit from a combination of Confucianism approach and the Legalism approach as the national strategy of governance. As each strategy has its pros and cons, which strategy of is optimal depends on factors such as the minimum enforceable level of public service and the level of institution building costs.


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