This course surveys several important debates in the contemporary study of law and development. At the end of the 1800s and through the early 20th century, law and the emerging discipline of political science were almost indistinguishable. Scholars focused on “getting the law right” in much the way economists later sought to “get prices right.” Constitutional engineering lay at the center of political science for several decades, until the Weimar experience (“good” design, bad results), coupled with some innovative research in law schools, threw the centrality of law into doubt and opened up grounds for the behavioral revolution, with its focus on attitudes and emotions. Interest in law and development returned during the period of decolonization in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this time driven by law schools and the call of Justice William O. Douglas for a “Peace Corps of lawyers.” Some of the participants wanted to help countries draft legislation that would help tame the inevitable excesses of the modern state. Others hoped to use law to promote greater equality, both within countries and across the North-South divide. During the past ten years, interest in law as a tool has experienced another resurgence. This course samples some of the issues in this area of policy and research.
Note that the class is not a primer on law or jurisprudence. It is more appropriate to think of it as a specialized course in the political economy of development in which statutes, judgments, court systems, and legal norms are causal factors of special interest. Although some of the sessions treat aspects of law and legal institutions as dependent variables, phenomena we seek to explain, most of the time we are talking about law’s effects on economic growth, equality, choice, or other aspects of development. Be aware that the territory in this field is vast and we can only touch upon a few issues.