Developing Development Theory: Law & Development Orthodoxies and Northeast Asian Experience

98 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2006

Date Written: February 2006


First, while intellectual histories of law and development theory are now common, no work that I am aware of employs the actual experience of Northeast Asia to interrogate these theories, yet it is in Northeast Asia where modern history's most outstanding development success stories can be found. Because this seemingly obvious step is not taken, theories of law and development remain disconnected from historical experience, and seem to attract adherents based upon unstated and untested assumptions. Second, this paper offers a way forward for law and development work which builds upon the Northeast Asian experience, but does so in a way that has not been suggested before. Law and development work affects literally billions of people in developing countries, and costs taxpayers and foundations in developed countries billions of dollars, yet many law and development practitioners express serious reservations about the utility of their work. Whatever reservations one might have about this work, it has an enormous impact on the world, and it is going to continue for the foreseeable future. It is therefore crucial that we think about new ways to assist legal reform in developing countries.

Although on one level this paper is about law and development and Northeast Asia, the issues it addresses are also at the core of our understandings of law and social organization in any society. The theorists it discusses, from Max Weber, to Friedrich Hayek, to Douglass North, are likewise at the heart of our theorizing about law, society and politics generally. This paper thus contributes to debates at the core of our legal intellectual tradition, and by bringing in the experience of Northeast Asia can enrich this tradition.

Keywords: law & economic development, law reform, East Asia, international finance institutions, rule of law

JEL Classification: A12, K10, K19, O19, O53, O57, P52

Suggested Citation

Ohnesorge, John Karl Murat, Developing Development Theory: Law & Development Orthodoxies and Northeast Asian Experience (February 2006). University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1024, Available at SSRN: or

John Karl Murat Ohnesorge (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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