Is it? I mean, I see a literary usage in my Chinese dictionary, meaning that the word is almost definitely quite old, but from what I’ve heard (I can’t remember when or where because it’s been quite a while), the use of 経済 to mean ‘economy’ was invented in Japan, and was then reimported into China. Quite a few technical words in modern Chinese are from Japan, even if some refuse to admit it, and that makes sense because Japan started importing and translating Western concepts first.
Hahaha. Maybe. I mean, I think that many native speakers simply use words without thinking about how they came to mean what they do now, so it would probably be impressive.
However, in this case, I think that it’s just a result of multiple and meanings of kanji. I think that in 経済,
- 経 means ‘to manage’ (like in 経営)
- 済 means ‘to provide material assistance (i.e. with money and objects)’
In fact, that’s exactly what’s in the literary definition of 経済 in Chinese: ‘to administer the world and provide material aid to the people; to manage a country’. I think that the Japanese translators responsible for translating ‘economy’ must have decided to extend that notion, because a country’s ability to provide material aid very much depends on the state of its economy, and it’s also something the government needs to manage and upkeep.
EDIT: ah, I see that @rodan’s link has a very similar explanation. Well, I was just taking a stab in the dark using my Chinese dictionary for assistance. Hope the kanji breakdown was helpful, at the least.
Well, there are exceptions. I had some vague idea that it was linked to ‘households’, and I’m a native speaker of English. (Oxford says the second half means ‘manage’ though – I was expecting something about ‘law’, to be honest, like how ‘autonomy’ actually means ‘own/self law’.) However, the reason I know this is because I had to study some translated Greek texts in France, and since our literature teachers are Greek/Latin buffs, we ended up learning some etymology too.