If the World Development Report 2017 had one or two more chapters on the law

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Photo: World Bank

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series. You can read part-two hereThe findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the World Bank Group, its Board of Directors or the governments they represent.
The World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law has cast some much welcome attention on the role of law in development. Compared to other sectors, international aid to the justice sector has been relatively low: only 1.8% of total aid flows, compared with 7.4% and 7.5% for the health and education sectors respectively between 2005 and 2013. More than that, the WDR 2017 is commendable for successfully articulating a positive and coherent if cautious view of law’s role.

Gone is the World Bank’s view of the early 1990s that first framed legal reform largely in economic terms (and originally in service of market liberalization under structural adjustment loans then in vogue).[i]

The WDR 2017 marks an important leap forward from the last major WDR on governance and law, the 2002 WDR on Building Institutions for the Market. That analysis offered important glimpses of the need to tailor institutions to context, and to innovate and experiment with institutional design. However, it largely clung to a focus on governance and law in service of effective markets. The WDR 2017 provides a vision of law that falls squarely in the early-21st century. This WDR deftly side-steps perennial conceptual rabbit holes and fits neatly within the WDR’s larger analytic vision of governance that, among other WDR novelties, tackles power head-on as a potential obstacle to reform and achieving change on seemingly intractable challenges.
Since 2011, at Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), I have bumped my head up against a similar set of questions, in spearheading a new line of research on law and development. True to IDRC’s model of support, the research has been led by local researchers and institutions in the Global South in around 15 countries. Here are a few thoughts on where I think the WDR gets it right, and where it could have pushed the analysis further, given an extra chapter or two on the law.

[i] Issue of ‘Governance’ in Borrowing Members the Extent of Their Relevance under the Bank’s Articles of Agreement, Legal Memorandum of Ibrahim F.I. Shihata, December 21, 1990


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