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 micro-management 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) in the other university of the state (in Leipzig). All of this may tell us that the national context leads to a dynamic that is different from the US and the UK.