Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Are You an Imperialist?

I got called an agent of capitalist imperialism the other day. This wasn't the first time. It's probably my own fault.

Business Law Journal staff photo.

It begs the question, though: why do I care about corporate law reform in other countries? Am I just acting out a sublimated desire for Anglo-American legal hegemony on the rest of the world?

There's no shortage of examples of how law can be just another tool in the imperialist box. Even the best intentions can wreak havoc when coupled with a bracing shot of hubris (see Russia's adoption of US-style corporate law). It pays to ask yourself this question. Then ask it again, and again, and again.

What are you here for, Imperialist?

But imperialism is all about international trade and corporate law reform isn't really about that. Most countries' economies are profoundly domestic. The benefits of good reform tend to stay there. That's exactly the point. You want laws that enable economic growth by spreading and generating new wealth, not transfer it into the hands of foreign corporations or home-grown cleptocrats.

This country ain't ready for reform!

Are there paths to sustainable economic growth other than some form of liberal capitalism? Maybe, but the alternatives haven't done very well so far. Foreign meddling and the lingering effects of colonialism don't fully explain the development gap either. We may not have the full picture (and anyone who claims they do is a fool or worse) but we do know that some combination of robust institutions and simple corporation law are keys to economic growth. A very cursory glance at international indices of development and the ease of starting, running, and regulating businesses supports that conclusion. More detailed analysis supports it even better.

Even if the poor countries convinced the wealthy countries to leave them alone, they would still have to convince their poor neighbors to keep their hands to themselves. No problem there.

Some people actually call the Second Congo War the "African World War" - no joke.

Not even islands are islands, really (the OG Polynesians were some bad-ass expansionists). So it's probably a good idea to get your country stable and capable of defending itself. How do you do that? Again, we don't really know but a healthy economy (contra Greece to bring it closer to home) that distributes wealth relatively broadly is your best bet.

If the main beneficiaries of corporate law reform are the citizens of the reforming country, and you have to play with your neighbors whether you like it or not, and you don't really like knowing that somewhere on the other side of the world are millions of people suffering unimaginable brutality because of intractable political and economic instability, the real question is "why wouldn't you care about corporate law in other countries?"

1 comment: