Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dowdle's post-mortum on our Dialogus

Writing as myself rather than as 'Pessimo', I generally agree with Mariana / Optimo's concluding assessment. I think at the end of the day, we just disagreed about what is necessary to constitute a 'model'.  I think I am much more demanding on this regard.  This came out most clearly, to me, in our discussion of Peerenboom's 'East Asian Model' and experimentalism.  In both cases, Mariana / Optimo seemed to locate the purported model in the discourse that experimentalism could be used to provoke.  I don't regard discourse as a 'model' -- although I recognize it as very useful.  This may well be simply a definitional disagreement, one that has no real bearing on substance.

Along these lines, I had 'Pesimo' take a more hard-line position on experimentalism than I would take personally.  In real life, I am sympathetic-but-somewhat-skeptical of experimentalism.  I think there is something viable to experimentalism, and have even written a couple of articles using Sabel's model to look at public law evolutionary processes in the People's Republic of China (in the process, identifying a spontaneous experimentalist dynamic that I called "discursive benchmarking").  My principal problem  with both Sabel and Rodrik is that I think they, like many in the American 'law and development' and 'law and economics' communities, are (far) too optimistic about the applicability of their model.  They're writings read more like sales-pitches than like objective academic analysis.  Their supporting case studies analyses are often much more rosy than the cases themselves actually turn out to be.  This is certainly the case with Rodrik's presentation of 'experimentalism' in China. Even Sebastian Heilmann's "Policy Experimentation in China's Economic Rise", the principle case-study support for Rodrik, made clear that China has hereto been unable to institutionalized its so-called 'experimentation', although it has tried.  I think there is a utility to experimentalism, but I think that utility is quite limited, and it is certainly not the magic bullet portrayed by Rodrik and earlier by Sabel.

Once we get beyond our definitional disagreements, thought I think we did ultimately find very common ground in the idea of development as a kind of discourse.  Again, Mariana would appear to say that this particular kind of discourse constitutes a particular kind of model, I would disagree on definitional grounds, but that really isn't that important, at least for now.  Interestingly, we found unexpected support for this point in Jed Kroncke's contribution to that same conference, which characterized the meaning and value of the 'Beijing Consensus' precisely in the kind of developmental discourse that 'consensus' generated in Brazil.  My take on the developmental discourse the Beijing Consensus has generated is different from Jed's, and is different from Mariana's.  But not completely incompatible.  All in all, I left the Dialogus feeling much that the idea of development as discourse makes my much more optimistic about the possibilities of "law and development" than the more orthodox conceptualizations of development as 'model' for institutional reform.

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