Taking Legal Origins Theory Seriously

John Armour et al., Law and Financial Development: What We Are Learning from Time-series Evidence (2010), at SSRN. D. Gordon Smith In the late 1990s, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert W. Vishny ("LLSV") launched a research project examining connections between legal rules governing investor protection and economic development. Working on the assumption that legal rules could be measured and quantified, LLSV purported to demonstrate that common law countries were more protective of outside investors – and, thus, more hospitable to economic development – than civil law countries. In the ensuing years, LLSV and other economists have expanded and refined their work, constructing the grandly named Legal Origins Theory, which holds that legal systems are important determinants of economic development. The influence of Legal Origins Theory is not confined to economics journals, but may be seen in policy reforms through the World Bank's Doing Business reports. While many legal scholars have dismissed this work because of its naïve assumptions about law and legal change, especially in early papers, a group of legal scholars at Cambridge University – led by Simon Deakin, John Armour, and Ajit Singh – took Legal Origins Theory seriously. Embracing the assumption that legal rules could be measured and quantified ("leximetrics"), the Cambridge Group produced legally sophisticated datasets on shareholder protection, creditor protection, and labor regulation. In Law and Financial Development: What We Are Learning from Time-series Evidence, published as part of a recent symposium on Legal Origins Theory in the BYU Law Review, four members of the Cambridge Group take stock of what we have learned from those datasets and chart some new directions for future research. Continue reading "Taking Legal Origins Theory Seriously"

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