Friday, November 28, 2014

Dialogus de Beijing Consensus -- Pessimo Response to Optimo on Experimentalism

Some responses to Optimo:

I think the problem of identifying ends is much more critical in the context of experiementalism than it is in the context of best practices (e.g., the Washington Consensus), because of the former's critical reliance on ex post evaluation.  If we can't agree on the ends, then we really can't do that evaluation, and experimentalism becomes reduces to simple decentralization.

Optimo appears to acknowledges the special difficulties that such normative questions pose for experimentalism, but suggests that that model can still survive.  In this, I question whether Optimo underestimates how domineering normative issues are in the context of law and development (as contrasted again, for example, developmental economics).  Law is a strongly normative phenomenon, and even the most hard-core positivists (like Pessimo) seem to have great difficultly separating the normative from the positive / procedural.  Almost all of the law and development projects that I am aware of have ultimately been informed strong normative understandings.  I would therefore at least hypothesize that experimentalism distinct difficulty with the normative may be a significantly more problematic feature in the context of law and development than it is in other areas of development. 

But then again, Optimo always has been more optimistic than Pessimo!

In responding to my skepticism regarding the suitability of experimentalism to national-level law and development projects, Optimo suggests "the beauty of experimentalism is the fact that we may arrive at different solutions through the same process, thus being able to share lessons while at the same time remaining context-dependent."  I assume this is related to Pessimo's subsequent discussion of meta-principles (attributing this, as Optimo likes to do, to that fictitious literary alter-ego of hers whom she calls 'Mariana Prado'.)  I'm not completely clear how these might work, but I do not see anything occurring in or coming out of China that fits this particular description -- certainly they have not been identified in the experimentalist literature referencing China.  Of course, this is ultimately an empirical question, and therefore beyond the terms of our dialogue (which are primarily conceptual). 

But then, Optimo does herself raise this empirical issue when she discusses the work of Chenggang Xu, who-- like many --identify Chinese experimentalism with numerous, spontaneous local rural land reform initiatives that took place in the 1970s.  As noted above, this is a commonly heard trope -- but there are a number of major problems with it.  First, this wasn't really experimentalism, it was reversion.  China had a regime of private agrarian land use rights in the 1950s, these so-called 'experiments' really simply reintroduced that regime.  It did not really develop anything new, which seems to be the raison d'etre of experimentalism as a modelRelatedly, one could also argue that these reforms were primarily an expression simply of gradualism rather than experimentalism.  There was never any question but that Deng was going to bring to China the 'free' market structure it had enjoyed in the early 1950s and found in most capitalist countries.  Again, this is not a question of experimentalism -- there was already much experience with these reforms, there really wasn't that much variation from locale to locale, and they were known commodities.  In fact, spiritually, these local experiments had much more in common with the Washington Consensus than they did with experimentalism.  Moreover, China's gradualism was ultimately dictated by political concerns rather than developmental concerns, and for this reason too would not seem to represent a developmental model. 

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