Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Relationship between Law and Development (Davis and Treilcock, 2008)

Davis and Treilcock (from NYU and U Toronto respectively) have co-authored a paper laying out the state of current academic thinking of law and development. My summary follow:
  • Examining articles appearing in recent Law and Development books,  they note that is more of disagreement than consensus on the topic:
Although the (articles) reflect decades of practical experience with and scholarly reflection upon legal reforms in developing countries, at the end of the day they are remarkably inconclusive. None of the authors represented in these
volumes seem strongly optimistic about whether legal reforms are likely
to promote development... -... however, their views range from mild optimism to mild skepticism and it is not immediately apparent how to resolve the differences in points of view and resulting uncertainties...We are struck by the lack of consensus.
  • They also argue that flowing from that landscape, there are three questions that challenge whether law can have any impact in development
We show that there is ongoing debate about fundamental questions such as whether law is an important factor in determining social or economic outcomes in developing societies given the existence of informal methods of social control; whether there
are insurmountable economic, political or culture obstacles to effective
legal reform; as well as, assuming effective legal reform is feasible, what types of reforms are conducive to development and what types of actors ought to implement them.
I interpret these questions as follows:
  • Conceptual- Does law have any causal impact on development? We don't really know, from the lack of evidence. Some of us suspect not.  
  • Design- Even if it does, do we know how to design good programs? How do we decide what priorities and strategies are?
  • Implementation- Even if the design is good, might there be so many obstacles that we won't succeed?
  • Their  Conclusion:
We argue that although there are some reasons for optimism about the potential impact of legal reforms upon development, the relevant empirical literature is inconclusive on many important issues and counsels caution about the wisdom of continuing to invest substantial resources in promoting legal reform in developing
countries without further research that clarifies these issues.

  • My thoughts: 
    • I appreciate the ambitious undertaking of crunching so many recent articles, and trying to organize them into a 'optimist vs skeptic' framework
    • They corroborate with my own take on the state of thinking (current and historical) on Law and Development
    • They certainly went into much detail on certain parts of theoretical analysis
    • Moreover, there are so many ambiguities surrounding concepts such as 'development', 'law', and 'success' that it is impossible to measure impact.
    • I think that the field is still relatively new, and that it is tempting to take a 'all or nothing' approach to thinking about any field. As a practitioner, I can say that I've seem some really successful projects, some neutral projects, and some projects that have caused more harm than good through unintended consequences. I don't think that it will ever be that we will get 100% success.
  • Read the entire article here:
Kevin E. Davis and Michael Trebilcock, The Relationship between Law and Development: Optimist versus Skeptics, New York University Law and Economics Working Papers, New York University School of Law (April 21, 2008).

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