Skepticism About Universalism: International Bankruptcy and International Relations

UC Berkeley Law and Economics Working Paper No. 2001-7

64 Pages Posted: 15 May 2001

See all articles by Frederick Tung

Frederick Tung

Boston University School of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2001


There is no international bankruptcy law, but only the national bankruptcy laws of various states. The failure of a multinational firm therefore raises difficult questions of conflict and cooperation among national bankruptcy regimes. Theorists have proposed various reforms to the uncoordinated territorial approach that most states pursue when a multinational firm suffers financial distress. Among these reform proposals, universalism has long been the dominant idea. Under universalism, the bankruptcy regime of the debtor firm's home country would govern, and that regime would have extraterritorial reach to treat all of the debtor's assets and claimants worldwide.

Despite its conceptual dominance, universalism has yet to find vindication in any concrete policy enactments. No universalist arrangements exist. While recent challenges to universalism have emerged, the current lively debate over universalism and rival proposals focuses almost exclusively on their comparative efficiencies. This article provides an entirely new perspective. Applying insights from elementary game theory and international relations theory, I show that universalism is politically implausible. Even for states interested in establishing universalist arrangements, they will be unable to do so. They will find themselves caught in a prisoners' dilemma with no ready solution. I conclude therefore that universalism holds only dubious promise as a prescription for international bankruptcy cooperation.

Keywords: International bankruptcy, game theory, international relations

JEL Classification: F23, F34, K22

Suggested Citation

Tung, Frederick, Skepticism About Universalism: International Bankruptcy and International Relations (April 4, 2001). UC Berkeley Law and Economics Working Paper No. 2001-7, Available at SSRN: or

Frederick Tung (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

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Boston, MA 02215
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