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How can property rights be protected and contracts be enforced in countries where the rule of law is ineffective or absent? How can firms from advanced market economies do business in such circumstances? In Lawlessness and Economics, Avinash Dixit examines the theory of private institutions that transcend or supplement weak economic governance from the state.

In much of the world and through much of history, private mechanisms--such as long-term relationships, arbitration, social networks to disseminate information and norms to impose sanctions, and for-profit enforcement services--have grown up in place of formal, state-governed institutions. Even in countries with strong legal systems, many of these mechanisms continue under the shadow of the law. Numerous case studies and empirical investigations have demonstrated the variety, importance, and merits, and drawbacks of such institutions.


This book builds on these studies and constructs a toolkit of theoretical models to analyze them. The models shed new conceptual light on the different modes of governance, and deepen our understanding of the interaction of the alternative institutions with each other and with the government's law. For example, one model explains the limit on the size of social networks and illuminates problems in the transition to more formal legal systems as economies grow beyond this limit. Other models explain why for-profit enforcement is inefficient. The models also help us understand why state law dovetails with some non-state institutions and collides with others. This can help less-developed countries and transition economies devise better processes for the introduction or reform of their formal legal systems.

This paper provides a review of the contradictions and conflicts in the literature on economic governance and sketches an approach to use some of the conceptual and empirical findings from that literature for development policy. The literature offers conflicting conclusions on big questions: whether history and geography preordain a country's economic fate, whether democracy or authoritarianism promotes growth; whether informal or formal mechanisms are best; whether "big bang" or gradual transitions promote growth; and whether disasters and demographics are stumbling blocks or stepping stones. The author finds recipes for success that are infeasible, contradictory and shifting, and that ignore the role of luck in development policy. While the researcher may ask, "What creates success on average across countries?" the policymaker needs to know, "What is going wrong in this country and how can we put it right?" The author suggests a preliminary approach to combine the practitioner's detailed knowledge of country conditions with the broader patterns uncovered by scholars, building on "growth diagnostics" that identify binding constraints to development. But he shifts from the sequential "decision tree" framework to a more directly "diagnostic" approach that recognizes that policymakers must deal with many factors simultaneously. The framework he suggests combines empirical information on potential causes, estimates of their probabilities, and observed effects. He proposes this framework as the foundation, not for another recipe, but for a broader mode of thought to tackle the complexity and variance in development processes and patterns across countries and time-one country at a time.
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