The Legal Turn in Late Development Theory: The Rule of Law and the World Bank’s Development Model

34 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2011

See all articles by Tor Krever

Tor Krever

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: September 1, 2010


Long cherished by liberal political philosophers, today the rule of law is increasingly viewed as a necessary requirement, or even silver bullet, for economic development. The past decade has seen the rise of a veritable industry — multilateral development banks, government development agencies, and nongovernmental aid organizations — committed to promoting the rule of law through legal and judicial reform in developing countries. This Article considers the emergence of a new rule of law orthodoxy within contemporary development theory and, in particular, the World Bank’s development model. It asks how and why the Bank has embraced the rule of law discourse, and offers a brief genealogy of the rule of law within the Bank’s theorizing. It argues that the Bank’s interest in law was primarily a response to the critique and failure of its neoliberal policies and identifies the new discourse’s affinities with the rise of New Institutional Economics and “good governance” in the 1990s. Under the Bank’s view, the law’s value for economic development lies in its ability to provide a stable investment environment and the predictability necessary for markets to operate. The role of law is reduced to the facilitation of utility maximizing exchange and optimal market allocation, a view that informs many of the Bank’s specific law reform projects. More a rhetorical shift than a fundamental break in development theorizing, the Bank’s turn to law actually undergirds many continued neoliberal assumptions and masks a continuation of neoliberalism’s core tenets. The new discourse is attractive precisely because it provides strong ideological support for the neoliberal agenda.

Keywords: Law and Development, Legal Reform, World Bank, Rule of Law, Institutions, Property Rights, Contracts, Development, Economics, Globalization, Neoliberalism, Washington Consensus, Governance

JEL Classification: B25, K30, O10

Suggested Citation

Krever, Tor, The Legal Turn in Late Development Theory: The Rule of Law and the World Bank’s Development Model (September 1, 2010). Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 52, No. 1, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Tor Krever (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

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