Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Prologue

Over the next two months or so, Mariana Prado and myself will be using this blog to construct a scholastic dialogue about the so-called 'Beijing Consensus' and its possible relevance for law and development.  This exercise will lead to a book chapter for a forthcoming book on the Beijing Consensus being edited by Weitseng Chen of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (who is therefore my colleague, and was also Mariana’s classmate in the Yale Law School doctoral program).  In keeping with the scholastic dialogue tradition, I am proposing that Mariana be ‘Optimo', and I be ‘Pessimo’.

In this introductory post, I will introduce the intellectual history behind the Beijing Consensus, so as to give some background.  Later this week, Pessimo will be making the first entry.

The Beijing Consensus was a term initially coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo.  Ramo used term to introduce a particular developmental strategy that he was advancing as a superior alternative to the then popular Washington Consensus.  According to Ramo, in contrast to the Washington Consensus, the Beijing Consensus emphasized experimentation rather than what we might call ‘programaticism’; a developmental focus on equitable distribution and (environmental) sustainability, rather than simply on GDP growth; and a focus on promoting and protecting ‘financial sovereignty’ – aka, the country’s ability to determine for itself how to structure its national economy, without being pressured into adopting particular policies by the advanced industrial countries or the international developmental organizations.

We will examine and critique Ramo’s notion in further detail later on.  But for now, it is significant to note that Ramo’s notion can be seen as part of a larger intellectual history.  Since the 1970s, scholars have been advancing various ‘Asian’ models of development as promising alternatives to ‘Western’ models.  Prior to Ramo, these included the ‘Developmental State’, and a ‘post-industrial’ form of industrial organization often referred to as ‘post-Fordism’.  The idea of the Asian ‘developmental state’, which was initially developed by Chalmers Johnson in the 1970s based upon the developmental experiences of Japan, advance the idea that the state could promote economic developmental by adopting industrial policies that targeted particular domestic industries for industrial development.  Post-Fordism, as perhaps most influentially articulated in the context of law and development by Charles Sabel, and which also derived in part of Japanese industrial organization, emphasized promoting industrial flexibility and adaptiveness rather than industrial exploitation of economies of scale.  A third precedential model, called neo-authoritarianism, emerged in the early 1990s, and argued that Asia’s impressive development could be credited to a policy decision to promote capitalist and neo-liberal economic reforms before promoting democratic and liberal political reforms.  (The subsequent “Asian values” thesis of the later 1990s, associated primarily with Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani, can be seen as a variant of this.)

Ramos particular conceptualization of the Beijing Consensus met with a lot of resistance, principally because there was real question whether the particular developmental policies he saw it as prescribing accurately described China’s actual path of economic development.  But it did appear to trigger renewed Western academic interests the possibility of a superior, and distinctly Asian, developmental model.  In 2005, Randall Peerenboom, wrote a book published by Oxford University Press, entitled China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest?, in which he advances what he termed the an “East Asian Model”, is characterized both by prioritizing economic reforms over liberal political reforms, and by a distinctively pragmatic approach to development that Peerenboom referred to as “doing what works”.  A couple of years later, Dani Rodrik advanced a similar developmental model, which he and others are calling ‘New Development Economics’ (which was discussed a bit in Michael Trebilcock’s recent post to the blog), that like the East Asian Model emphasizes pragmatism and experimentation and that cites China’s post-Mao development as its principal exemplar.  More recently, some scholars – perhaps most prominently in the field of law and development, Curtis Milhaupt – have been advancing a distinctly Chinese notion of ‘state capitalism’: a form of capitalism similar to the developmental state but in which the focus is not so much on industrial policymaking but more on state involvement in the corporate governance of firms.

The succeeding posts in this dialogue will debate the relevance of each of these ‘models’ to ‘law and development’. Stay tuned.

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