Sunday, 23 November 2014

How countries succeed: unintended consequences and inconvenient truths (Fukuyama’s recent book)

Two years ago I attended a talk by Francis Fukuyama in Berkeley about his (then) forthcoming book Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, now published of course. The book identifies ‘the state’, the ‘rule of law’ and ‘democracy’ as the main elements for successful political development. So far so uncontroversial, at least for the mainstream Western readership. But, then, Fukuyuma, being a historian, identifies certain historical factors that have shown to matter for each of those elements – and some of those may have a certain shock value for Western readers. For example:
  • Wars and a strong  military often led to the development of effective bureaucracies (ie peaceful countries have a disadvantage).
  • Ethnic cleansing was often crucial for the formation of national identities and nation building (and thus 'the state'). And radical Islam may play a corresponding role.
  • Clientelism is an early form of democracy. And building an effective state without democratic accountability may initially be better than developing both together.
Of course, Fukuyuma also says that these historical insights should not be seen as policy recommendations. Still, I find these ‘inconvenient truths’ valuable, not least since they challenge the naivety of some of the development policy discourse, also criticised in my research (eg, here, in the chapter on ‘comparative law and development).

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Dynamics of PhD examiners (UK)

In the UK, PhDs are assessed by two examiners. Being a PhD examiner is more interesting than marking exams. However, it is also more challenging as there are no fixed rules on how to assess the quality of the thesis. For first time examiners this may lead to some doubts where to position themselves between the extremes of micromanagement and a mere plausibility check (eg, when writing the pre-viva report). But, then, there is also the other examiner: so how can we understand the dynamics?

Perhaps it’s like this: the ‘newbie’ (who starts here with a moderate position) adjusts his or her stance according to the views of the other examiner who may either be fairly harsh or lenient. It is also assumed that the newbie is initially more willing to change his or her view for the examination of the next thesis, but gradually becomes more confident, and eventually converges to the average.

But, then, the model of the first figure would mean that all experienced examiners should be in the middle; thus, it’s not consistent to say that they may have the extreme positions of the first figure. Therefore, the second figure assumes the opposite; the ‘newbie’ is still fairly extreme but gradually converges to the average of the other examiners.

However, the second model also does not seem realistic since not all experienced examiners are equally lenient/harsh. Thus, the third model may be the most realistic one: the experienced examiners vary a bit. The ‘newbie’ may initially have a more extreme position but gradually adjusts it and converges to a stable state which, however, even in the long run may deviate a bit from the average.
  Does this show that this system ‘works’? It works well in the sense that having two examiners means that all examiners have to adjust their positions and therefore, in the long and in average, a common standard emerges. But for the individual candidate the fact that his or her two examiners may be skewed to one or the other direction means that good/bad luck clearly plays a role. So what to do? Perhaps a third person or, as in other countries, a panel of examiners may help.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The "Imperial College School of Law"?

This blog post is triggered by DM Katz' thought exercise "The MIT School of Law? A Perspective on Legal Education in the 21st Century". Katz suggests that the educational experience of such a hypothetical school "would be centered at the intersection of substantive law, process engineering, computer science and artificial intelligence, design thinking, analytics, and entrepreneurship", and more generally highlights "the benefits to working at in that overlap between law and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)".

The UK parallel to the MIT is Imperial College in London: a top university specialised in the STEM areas and so far without a law school (but with some social sciences, eg, a business school, again similar to the MIT). However, the dynamics would be quite different in the UK: Katz' main focus is on training future legal practitioners, but in the UK (and most other countries of the world; not the US) this is mainly done through post-university education and traineeships. Moreover, given the lower fees for a law degree in the UK, as compared to US laws, and the research assessment system (REF), the shape of an Imperial College School of Law would in all likelihood be driven, not by teaching needs, but by the desire to have an innovative new school for interdisciplinary legal research.
   Having said all that, actually, I think something like an Imperial College School of Law would be a good idea. At present, the main question is whether UK law schools are closest to humanities, social science or legal practice (as discussed here), but the relationship to science, technology, mathematics too presents interesting perspectives for interdisciplinary collaboration; also, as Imperial already has a business school, having law school could be the logical next step.

Supplement: a more proper comparison would also need to consider the German equivalent which does actually exist, namely, the Law Faculty of the Dresden University of Technology (one of the German universities of excellence); collaboration here seems to be mainly with the other social sciences faculties of the university; it may also be noted that the law faculty used to offer a general education for lawyers but that in 2004 the state government of Saxony decided to concentrate the core legal education (the state exam required to become a lawyer) to the other university of the state (in Leipzig). All of this may reflect that the national context leads to a dynamic that is different from the US and the UK.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Is Twitter global? perhaps not (anecdotal)

Ok, I admit it's pretty anecdotal: the percentages are my Twitter followers (just a bit short of 500), numbers and figure via tweepsmap (click on figure to enlarge). The strongest following in the UK (62.8%) is somehow plausible since some of my Tweets are UK-specific (eg, the UK system of research assessments). But, as a fairly 'global' comparative lawyer, I'd have hoped that there would have been a bit more of a balance between the UK and the 'rest of the world' (though perhaps the results also has to do with the extent the latter takes part in the mainly English-language Twitter world: eg compare the Netherlands, 3.5%, with Germany, 1.8%).

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Comparative Law Seminar and Book Launch

Monday 20 October 2014, 6-7pm, followed by drinks reception

Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London

Speakers and Discussants: Professor Mathias Siems (Durham); Professor David Nelken (KCL); Dr Jacco Bomhoff (LSE);  Dr Maria-Federica Moscati (SOAS); Chair: Professor Helen Xanthaki (IALS)

Description: Professor Mathias Siems will introduce the key arguments of his new book Comparative Law (CUP 2014) and discuss the arguments with a distinguished panel of comparative legal scholars.

Please register at here.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

European Law & Economics at the Crossroads?

Some brief reflections on three conferences that I attended in September – and on the direction that 'law & economics' (L&E) may take in Europe.
   The first one was the Inaugural conference of the World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research (WINIR) in Greenwich; thus, actually, not explicitly about L&E; yet, a number of papers were on L&E (broadly understood), and some of the participants also took part in the two events mentioned below. Possibly, it may also be suggested that such thinking about 'institutions', incorporating (if appropriate) further disciplines such as political science, history etc, may be preferable to a (potentially) narrow L&E focus.
   Second, the Annual Conference of the European Association of Law and Economics (EALE), this year in Aix-en-Provence, is the mainstream L&E event in Europe. It's always very pleasant: meeting old friends and acquaintances, usually in a nice location. But, reflecting on L&E in Europe, it may be a bit unsatisfactory that only a minority (perhaps 25%) of the participants are legal scholars, thus showing that L&E at European law schools is at best a niche. Interestingly, some of the most popular EALE sessions were the ones on behavioural and experimental L&E, possibly also pointing towards the need of L&E to broaden its appeal.
   The third event was a workshop on Economics and the Law in Europe at Dauphine and Nanterre universities in Paris. Here, the focus was on the intellectual history of L&E. Lawyers were in the minority, but the economists too were not 'typical' economists, but mainly economic historian and socio-economists (eg, my paper was the only one that had a quantitative dimension). Again, therefore it became apparent at this event that L&E is not to be understood in a narrow way. Paradoxically, in this respect, it may be an advantage for L&E in Europe to be less popular than in the US, since it may make European L&E scholarship more willing to look beyond its usual boundaries.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

How important is it to be close to London? (aka as ‘The Big Retford Puzzle’)

Tomorrow morning I'll again travel from London to Durham - and may wonder again about the puzzle indicated in the title of this post. What's it about? 
  It is meant to refer to two signs at Retford station that advertise 'Offices to Let'. Both indicate that Leeds is 1h away, but the one on the left says that it is 1h15 to London, while the one on the right says that it is 1h40...
  How can this be possible? I think one can assume that in general it'd be good to be close to London. Checking the train timetable it’s actually 1h30. So, perhaps the person on the left, trying to be smart, understated the time a bit; maybe thinking that he (she) could always argue that he's referring to the mere duration of the journey to the border of Greater London. But then, what is the explanation for the sign on the right hand-side? Why not 'collude' and just say the same as the person on the left?
  I don't have an answer for it but perhaps he or she is just honest! (assuming that it may take ten minutes or so to get to the train station in Retford)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Has legislation become less readable?

A while ago I came across the various readability indicators (overviews eg here and here). A popular one is the Gunning Fog Index which is mainly based on the length of words and sentences. It gives you a number: the higher the value, the less readable the text. It is said that a value of 12 is the threshold where a text gets beyond 'near-universal understanding' and requires a 'level of a U.S. high school senior (ca 18 years old)'.
  Now let’s test the question posed in the title for UK legislation. I randomly took three acts from 100 years ago (1 2 3 ) and three from this year (1 2 3), copied the text of these acts (if necessary limited to ten pages; omitting the table of contents), and pasted it to a Gunning Fog website.
  The result: the 100-year old laws had the values 13.75, 15.65 and 10.75 while the current ones had 21.45, 19.77 and 19.42. Thus, the answer is a clear 'yes'.
  Btw: how does my writing compare to it? I quickly calculated it for three of my recent academic articles: the values are 16.79, 16.06, 17.53: thus, fortunately, my writing is more readable than contemporary UK legislation. And for this blog, it's even just 12.44, thus close to the magic number 12 where I’d have 'near-universal understanding'.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

My conference schedule for September (and in the coming academic year?)

  Then, useful to keep track of some of the major conferences for 2015 (with deadlines often in the next few months): I contemplate to submit papers for the Law & Society conference in Seattle, the SLSA annual conference in Warwick, the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics in London, and the next annual conference of the International Society for New Institutional Economics presumably at Harvard.