Why Government Fails So Often: Or, the Skeptics Are Winning

7-17 SchuckAccording to The New York Times‘s David Leonhardt, the United States federal government gets an honorable mention when it comes to reform, innovation, and protection – but it’s not quite enough. In a recent op-ed for “The Upshot,” the paper’s politics and policy blog, Leonhardt pays due diligence to the large-scale achievements of the United States: dismantling totalitarian governments, putting men on the moon, and the invention of the Internet among them. And yet, despite our big picture success stories, we continue to stumble in the day-to-day.

Leonhardt references Yale Law professor and Princeton University Press author Peter Schuck’s latest book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better in evaluating the current role of the federal government and the extent to which its activity is productive and beneficial, particularly when it comes to the siphoning of federal funds.


“When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.”


Soon, however, we might start to see some returns on our investments. The growing popularity of programs that are funded based on their initial success suggests a growing demand for tangible results, to see where our money is going and to ensure that we’re not wasting it.  These programs “span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism,” and are sometimes known as “pay for success,” wherein controlled trials are set up to determine the effect of such projects. And really, that’s the only way to know if something works. Professor Schuck is right to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these initiatives, and with any luck, the government will start to fail just a little less.

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Peter H. Schuck is the author of:

7-17 Government Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better by Peter H. Schuck
Hardcover | 2014 | $27.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161624
488 pp. | 6 x 9 | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850044 | Reviews  Table of Contents   Chapter 1[PDF]

Quick Questions for Karen Alter

K_AlterKaren Alter is a Professor of Political Science and Law at Northwestern University, and continues her research in international courts as co-director of the institutionalization research cluster at the iCourts Center of Excellence, Copenhagen University Faculty of Law, and through ongoing collaborative research on international courts in Latin America and Africa. Her work focuses largely on “the interaction between international organizations and domestic policies” and “how different domains of domestic and international politics are transformed through the creation of international courts.”

She is the author of The European Court’s Political Power, Establishing the Supremacy of European Law, and the co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication as well as the co-author of International Legal Transplants: the Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice. Her most recent book is The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights which Robert O. Keohane hails as “the most sophisticated account of how ‘new style’ international courts alter politics by reducing the monopoly power of governments to determine what the law requires.” He also says, “If you can read only one book on how international courts affect the politics of international law, this is the one to read.” High praise indeed!

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

Karen Alter: The most straightforward contribution of The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights is to make the alphabet soup of international courts more intelligible. There are so many questions about international courts we could not really ask because every international court was seen as sui generes. If my book helps scholars pose important questions based on the larger landscape of international courts, they are more likely to study international courts and investigate important questions. Then they can write about how Alter got x, y and z completely wrong.

The larger contribution is to create more realistic expectations for international courts.  We all know that the power of judges is limited. “International judges have the power issue binding rulings in the cases that are adjudicated.” (p.32) That is it! Elaborating further, I explain that judges name violations of the law, and perhaps specify remedies.  The real question is: How and when does the power to speak the law become politically meaningful?


The main contribution then is to generate an adaptable framework.


My more realistic approach to international law helps us get beyond utopian expectations and straw men. I understand that given what is going on in Ukraine, Syria, and in of US foreign policy, it is hard not to conclude that international law is irrelevant. But we don’t look at the many unresolved murders, the frequency of speeding, and use of illegal drugs and conclude that the American legal system must be irrelevant. Salient failures do not mean that legal systems never succeed or that law is irrelevant.

What is my non-utopian perspective? My answer is in the book’s preface: “If it seems like I find much success in international legal institutions, it is probably because my expectations are so low. International law is primarily words on paper imbued with legal authority. In the Bible, David always wins. In the real world, the odds remain in Goliath’s favor. But increasingly international law–words on paper imbued with legal authority–provides a legal and political resource that makes a difference.  The ability of international courts to speak law to power and thereby influence governments to alter their behavior is in my mind somewhat akin to David’s miracle victory over Goliath.”

The main contribution then is to generate an adaptable framework–­ the altered politics framework–to investigate when international law and international courts are relevant and influential. The book applies this framework across a range of institutions and cases, providing many examples of international judges throwing stones yet nonetheless influencing Goliaths to revisit decisions, change tax policies, compensate plaintiffs, revise constitutions, and create new institutional checks and balances.

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
My husband says that I have been working on this book for 14 years. His quip is misleading, but also somewhat true.


My husband says that I have been working on this book for 14 years…misleading, but also somewhat true.


My writing process is to have many projects ongoing and at different stages. When I get really frustrated fumbling with new ideas and projects in the very early stages, I can spend a day putting the finishing touches on something that actually reads well.

For this project, my approach was to write articles exploring pieces of the puzzle. Some articles pushed an idea to its limit, to see, for example, how far I could sustain the notion that international courts are trustees and independent of powerful governments. Other articles looked in historical and empirical depth at a single institution, going into far more detail than I do in the book. You can see this approach on my webpage where I divide my research agenda into the study of comparative international courts, examining the Andean Tribunal of Justice as a supranational legal transplant, investigating the European Court’s Political Power, researching Africa’s international courts, and studying international regime complexity.

I also seek help by co-authoring. Larry Helfer was my partner in figuring out where the Andean Tribunal is influential, and why it remains irrelevant for many legal issues that should, in theory, fall under its legal purview. Sophie Meunier and I brought scholars together to collectively investigate how it matters that international institutions have overlapping membership and jurisdiction.

The many articles on comparative international courts read at times like whirling dervishes. The articles threw so many ideas and acronyms at the reader, they really asked too much of the reader. Writing the book was then a relief.  I had the space to work out the pieces at play, to develop and layer on empirics and ideas.

For this book I also had two book workshops—one in the US and another in Europe. These workshops, and Princeton’s peer review, really helped me to hone the book.

So yes, it took 14 years of stumbling around to write this book. But they were also very productive years.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
This was the most difficult and complex project I have ever done. I often give the analogy of Greg Louganis, an amazing American Olympic diver who won medals at two Olympics, on both the springboard and platform. In high school I was an extremely middling diver. The experience taught me that there are hundreds of skills and nuances one must master. Yet Greg Louganis makes diving look easy. He lands a dive with almost no splash.

Writing like Greg Louganis dives is my goal, and it takes a huge amount of practice and experimentation.

If I did my job well, my readers will not even realize how many ideas, terms and presentational devices I invented to simplify a bewildering complexity.

I invented the categories of ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ courts to explain why today’s international courts are so different than their predecessors. I created tables and organizing heuristics to convey the idea of proliferation, replication, similarity and divergence with relatively few details. I worked with categories lawyers use, differentiating each of the four judicial roles in the simplest possible way.

I then found 18 case studies to investigate each role in greater depth. The case studies involve different issues, different courts and different countries.

Finally I had to make the many pieces fit together in a way that the reader could follower.


I knew I was succeeding when the noise went away, and when my terminology became infectious.


Along the way, there was much distracting noise. I had to simplify without setting off lawyers’ alarms. I had to create concepts, categories, images and terms that captured the many variables political scientists care about. It took much iteration to rebuff early rejections of the notion that one can meaningfully differentiate constitutional review, dispute settlement, administrative review and enforcement roles. I was pushed into giving my name to my central argument- international courts altering politics.  This name came because my helpful critics rejected everything else I suggested!

24 courts + 4 judicial roles + 18 case studies across three vastly different issue areas: economic disputes, human rights and mass atrocities.

I knew I was succeeding when the noise went away, and when my terminology became infectious, shaping the conversation to focus on the important issues at stake.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I don’t know if this is the most influential book I’ve read, but I was inspired by Morton Horowitz’s book The Transformation of American Law (1870-1960). I read his book in graduate school, and it wowed me. I can still remember the core of his argument, which is remarkable considering how bad my memory is.

This feels really grandiose to say, but The Transformation of American Law inspired me to write a book that I hope will stand the test of time, inspire others, and be remembered.  Whether I achieve these objective is for others to decide. I sometimes wonder whether contemporary political science is conducive to memorable books. But the question I’m answering is what influenced me, and how I was influenced.

A funny thing about Horowitz’s book is that some of my colleagues at Northwestern Law School think of it as a Marxist book. It never occurred to me to see Horowitz’s book as Marxist. The Transformation of American Law fit into a tradition of political economy. It is much like two other books I still remember: Alexander Gerschenkron’s  Economic Backwardness in Comparative Perspective and Theda Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions. These books, in my mind, use similar approaches to studying history and institutional development.  Perhaps this list, however, makes me a Marxist. Or, perhaps anyone who studies power in history, and political economy, is Marxist.  Or perhaps constructivism is the new Marxism.

Do you have advice for other authors?
Ask important questions.

Dream big.

Get in over your head and find your way out.


Don’t spend too much time alone in your head. Go out and talk to people!


Give yourself time to let ideas ripen.

But don’t spend too much time alone in your head. Go out and talk to people!

‘Data’ often is not what it seems.  Test your ideas and inferences by presenting your work, and by learning how the stakeholders understand their world.

PUP: What is your next project?
I have a lot of discrete projects that will keep me busy for the next five to seven years. This suits me fine because I have a daughter in high school, and a son in middle school.  I can’t undertake a huge consuming project until they are through high school. In the short term, expect more articles, symposia, and a book or two on international courts.

But I am starting to read for what will be my next big project.  I want to study capitalism and the rule of law in China.

I see China as trying to develop a rule of law absent human rights and constitutional checks on political authority. Is this even possible? If China can pull it off, I expect that authoritarian leaders around the world will emulate China’s approach to the rule of law. China’s rule of law model will then rival with the Euro-American model.

Maybe my interest in this topic goes back to Morton Horowitz.  Horowitz argued that the task of building the railroads in America fundamentally shaped the development of American law.  I want to understand how China’s embrace of capitalism in combination with the Communist Party’s disdain for constitutional democracy is shaping China’s development of the rule of law.

This project follows my own advice to ‘get in over your head and find your way out.’  I don’t speak Chinese, and I don’t yet know much about China. But I have started reading about capitalism and the rule of law, and about China. In five years time, I can start traveling to China to meet with law school deans, law faculty, government officials, judges and law firms. I can also begin to co-author with China specialists.

Alongside this new interest, my investment in researching and writing about Africa’s international courts is long term. I really enjoy working with Larry Helfer.  If I have my way, there will always be a project we are working on together.

But also, in both China and Africa I can study the rule of law as it develops from dysfunction to whatever it becomes. Triangulating the contrast between a developing rule of law and the established American and European rule of law systems keeps me thinking and learning.  I want to always be challenged to think in new ways.

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Karen is the author of:

The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights
Karen J. AlterHardcover | 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691143774
296 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 | 1 table.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400850051ReviewsTable of ContentsPreface[PDF]Chapter 1[PDF]Karen J. Alter’s Home Page

“Climbing Mount Laurel” Wins 2013 Paul Davidoff Award

Douglas S. Massey, Len Albright, Rebecca Casciano, Elizabeth Derickson & David N. Kinsey - Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb
Winner of the 2013 Paul Davidoff Award, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning

The Paul Davidoff Award was established three decades ago by ACSP and is one of the most prestigious honors in the academic planning field. It recognizes an outstanding book publication promoting participatory planning and positive social change, opposing poverty and racism as factors in society, and seeking ways to reduce disparities between rich and poor; white and black; men and women. The award is granted biennially to the publication that most reflects Davidoff’s commitments and values.”

According to the committee chair, the entire selection committee was unanimous in its praise for Climbing Mount Laurel, and wrote that the “…work outshined a large and excellent pool of nominees.”

The Award will be formally announced at the ACSP Administrators’ Conference on November 15, 2013, and it will be formally presented at the 2014 conference during the Awards Luncheon.

For more information, click here.

Climbing Mount LaurelUnder the New Jersey State Constitution as interpreted by the State Supreme Court in 1975 and 1983, municipalities are required to use their zoning authority to create realistic opportunities for a fair share of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. Mount Laurel was the town at the center of the court decisions. As a result, Mount Laurel has become synonymous with the debate over affordable housing policy designed to create economically integrated communities. What was the impact of the Mount Laurel decision on those most affected by it? What does the case tell us about economic inequality?

Climbing Mount Laurel undertakes a systematic evaluation of the Ethel Lawrence Homes–a housing development produced as a result of the Mount Laurel decision. Douglas Massey and his colleagues assess the consequences for the surrounding neighborhoods and their inhabitants, the township of Mount Laurel, and the residents of the Ethel Lawrence Homes. Their analysis reveals what social scientists call neighborhood effects–the notion that neighborhoods can shape the life trajectories of their inhabitants. Climbing Mount Laurel proves that the building of affordable housing projects is an efficacious, cost-effective approach to integration and improving the lives of the poor, with reasonable cost and no drawbacks for the community at large.

Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and director of its Office of Population Research. Len Albright is assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern University. Rebecca Casciano is the CEO of Rebecca Casciano, LLC. Elizabeth Derickson is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University. David N. Kinsey is lecturer of public and international affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and a partner in the planning consulting firm Kinsey & Hand.

Martin Ruhs to Speak on Panel at Kellogg University of Oxford

The Global Governance of International Migration: What Next?

The Global Governance of International Migration: What Next?

The regulation of international migration and migrant rights are among the most contested public policy issues around the world. In 2013-14 a series of high-level policy meetings (including the High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in New York, and the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Stockholm) will debate the global governance of migration, migrant rights and development. Do we need more global governance of international migration? If so, why and what should it aim to achieve? How, if at all, should international migration be integrated in the post-2015 development agenda? Come and join the debate!

Chair: Robin Cohen (Kellogg College and International Migration Institute, Oxford)

Panellists:

Timetable:
17.00-18.30 Panel Discussion in the lecture hall at the University of Oxford Museum of Natural History
18.30-19.30 Drinks Reception at Kellogg College
19.30-21.30 Dinner at Kellogg College

Both the panel discussion and drinks reception are FREE of charge. The dinner at Kellogg College is £15.00 per person.

To book please email: bookings@kellogg.ox.ac.uk
Please specify whether your booking pertains to the discussion, drinks and/or dinner. Include names of all guests and any dietary requirements.

Event details:

Fri, 29/11/2013 – 5:00pm – 9:30pm

The Festival of Ideas Brochure Is Available!

BFOI_web_logo_URL_900The 2013 Bristol Festival of Ideas aims to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate throughout the year.

The authumn 2013 brochure can be found in PDF form here. A Princeton University Press author, Martin Ruhs, will be at one of the events to speak about his book, The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration at The New World Economy discussion on November 22nd (see page 7 of the brochure).

The following is a description of the discussion from the brochure:

The idea that the world’s centre of economic gravity is moving to the BRIC nations – Brazil, China, India and Russia – and other economies formerly known as ‘developing’ has become familiar. But what are the implications for the West of this historic shift in economic power, towards the countries with the majority of the world’s population and resources? Equally, what are the challenges and opportunities ahead for the fast-growing economies of Asia and Africa?

 Be sure to check out all of the great speakers and events, and to keep checking back at the Festival of Ideas website for updates and more information.

American prison system debate reaches new level

Hagan_Who_F12Orange Is the New Black, a comedy-drama series based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, recently hit the screens of Netflix users, receiving widespread critical acclaim. The show, revolving around Kernan’s sentence in a women’s federal prison, sheds light on social structure, rules, culture, and overall the experiences of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

Kernan, now a board member of the Women’s Prison Association, recently discussed her experience and suggestions for changing the American prison system on NPR’s Fresh Air. That same week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the U.S. has an “unnecessarily large prison population,” calling the system “both ineffective and unsustainable.”

While the consensus that change is necessary is spread across party lines, the debate among lawmakers over what to do and how to do it is heavy. One certainty is, however, that the conversation has reached a national level, and an understanding of the U.S. prison system is becoming increasingly necessary.

In Who Are the Criminals?, John Hagan argues that the recent history of American criminal justice can be divided into two eras—the age of Roosevelt (roughly 1933 to 1973) and the age of Reagan (1974 to 2008). A focus on rehabilitation, corporate regulation, and the social roots of crime in the earlier period was dramatically reversed in the later era. In the age of Reagan, the focus shifted to the harsh treatment of street crimes, especially drug offenses, which disproportionately affected minorities and the poor and resulted in wholesale imprisonment. At the same time, a massive deregulation of business provided new opportunities, incentives, and even rationalizations for white-collar crime—and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. The time for moving beyond Reagan-era crime policies is long overdue, Hagan argues. The understanding of crime must be reshaped and we must reconsider the relative harms and punishments of street and corporate crimes. In a new afterword, Hagan assesses Obama’s policies regarding the punishment of white-collar and street crimes and debates whether there is any evidence of a significant change in the way our country punishes them.

Sykes_SocietyThe Society of Captives, first published in 1958, is a classic of modern criminology and one of the most important books ever written about prison. Gresham Sykes wrote the book at the height of the Cold War, motivated by the world’s experience of fascism and communism to study the closest thing to a totalitarian system in American life: a maximum security prison. His analysis calls into question the extent to which prisons can succeed in their attempts to control every facet of life—or whether the strong bonds between prisoners make it impossible to run a prison without finding ways of “accommodating” the prisoners. Re-released fifty years later, The Society of Captives will continue to serve as an indispensable text for coming to terms with the nature of modern power.

For further reading:

When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment by Mark A. R. Kleiman
Games Prisoners Play: The Tragicomic Worlds of Polish Prison
by Marek M. Kaminski
Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Margaret J Radin talks Boilerplates in op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

Boilerplate coverWhether it is a one time practice or a weekly scheduled session, gymnastic facilities have participants sign a boilerplate that relieves the gym and all their personnel of all responsibility if you get hurt while there. At a gym near my hometown, a friend of mine dislocated her elbow after an instructor did not properly spot her while she tried a new gymnastics trick. Needless to say, the gym manager at the time handed her a phone to call her mother, then wiped his hands of the situation and it was on to the next class.

In a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Margaret Jane Radin discusses how a boilerplate to attend a birthday party at a gymnastics facility forced her niece to sign that the gym was not responsible if her three year old were to sustain any injuries. Radin discusses what boilerplates mean for our legal rights in her book Boilerplate. Boilerplates are the paperwork or its electronic equivalent that must be signed in order to use the service or product. What exactly are you signing away when you sign or click “I accept”?

Read part of the op-ed below.

Blackmailed by the fine print

Boilerplate is more than just an annoyance. It threatens democracy and the rule of law.

My niece, the mother of a 3-year-old, told me she felt blackmailed: In order for her child to attend a birthday party at a gymnastics facility for young children, she had to sign a form that included this:

“The undersigned agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless [this facility], its officers, managers, members, employees, servants, agents and coaches/instructors and their successors and assigns from and against all legal liability, claims, suits, damages, losses, and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, threatened or incurred, and arising from the child’s participation, or from any cause whatsoever.”

Forms like this are called boilerplate because they are delivered to us on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If my niece signed this one, she would relieve the gym of legal liability if her child were harmed at the party. And should she try to challenge the “hold harmless” form, she would be responsible for the facility’s legal expenses if she lost.

Lawyers know (but non-lawyers probably don’t) that such forms may be found to be legally overreaching if the matter ever reaches a court; no business or individual can “contract out” of reckless or grossly negligent or intentionally harmful behavior. When such questions do reach a judge, however, courts in many states will excuse mere negligence, such as a failure to screen employees or maintain equipment or premises properly.

Read the FULL op-ed here.

 

John McGinnis op-ed for Investor’s Business Daily

2-7 AcceleratingJohn McGinnis, author of Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology, proposes in his book that the government does not take full advantage of the benefits that technology gives. He explains that recent technology can be used to better analyze past, present, and future public policy. In a recent op-ed for Investor’s Business Daily, he explains how prediction markets can serve as a way to discover if policies will be beneficial before they are fully enacted. McGinnis argues that prediction markets are not the same as internet gambling and that they should be legalized as a way to assess policies that fits the technology of today.

Read the full op-ed below.

[Read more...]

John McGinnis on Technology and the Government

In such a fast paced world, it only makes sense that everything in our lives moves as quickly as we do. Whether the speed is through our internet connection or news updates, our society feeds off technological advances that have made our lives quicker and more efficient. In the government, however, technology has not been fully embraced thus giving the government a slow image. Recently, Todd Park became the White House chief technology officer and aims to change the government’s image. In Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance Through Technology by John McGinnis, he explains how fast-evolving information technologies can be used to better analyze past, present, and future public policy but says that this can only happen if the government keeps up with technology’s pace. In a recent interview with The Takeaway, McGinnis discusses his book and why the government should use technology to test social policy and more.

 

Boilerplate reviewed in The Wall Street Journal

The overload of tiny text in the Terms of Service Agreement is for most people just a blur of words that they don’t take the time to read. Most people I know bypass the reading and head straight for the little square box next to the words “I agree to the terms and conditions” without thinking twice. In Margaret Jane Radin’s book Boilerplate, she examines how these fine print service agreements or boilerplate contracts might seem very little but can have a big impact. Boilerplate contracts threaten rights that people would otherwise be entitled to if they had not agreed to the terms of services agreement. They are not real contracts at all and actually degrade the moral basis of contract law.

The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed Boilerplate and called it “[A] sophisticated and thought-provoking treatment of the boilerplate contracts that everyone signs yet few read or understand.”

Read the full review here and read Boilerplate, and maybe even read the terms of service agreement the next time you buy music or rent an apartment.

In the News: Affirmative Action Supreme Court Case

What’s appearing to be the most controversial U.S. Supreme Court case of this term took place this Wednesday, October 10. Are affirmative action programs beneficial or downright unlawful? Opponents of affirmative action claim that public universities are actively practicing illegal discrimination when considering race as a factor for admission. In 2003, the Supreme Court said that affirmative action may prove necessary for the next quarter of a century to guarantee that university classrooms would reflect the vast racial diversity of the United States. Wednesday, the court questioned the racial preferences used by the University of Texas to achieve student diversity in their college admission processes and are currently reconsidering that 2003 decision.

William G. Bowen & Derek Bok’s 2000 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions brings a wealth of empirical evidence to bear on how race-sensitive admissions policies actually work and clearly defines the effects they have had on over 45,000 students of different races. Similarly, Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford’s No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life pulls back the curtain on the selective college experience and takes a rigorous and comprehensive look at how race and social class impact each stage—from application and admission, to enrollment and student life on campus.

Check out the Preface to The Shape of the River or read the Introduction to No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal and share with us your opinions on this highly controversial case.

Timur Kuran and The Long Divergence featured in the Boston Globe

Timur Kuran, author of Islam and Mammon and The Long Divergence is featured in a piece by Thanassis Cambanis about the effects of Islamic law on economies. Cambanis writes:

“Has the Islamic world been held back by its treatment at the hands of history? Or could the roots of the problem lie in its shared religion—in the Koran, and Islamic belief itself?

A provocative new answer is emerging from the work of Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American economist at Duke University and one of the most influential thinkers about how, exactly, Islam shapes societies. In a growing body of work, Kuran argues that the blame for the Islamic world’s economic stagnation and democracy deficit lies with a distinct set of institutions that Islamic law created over centuries. The way traditional Islamic law handled finance, inheritance, and incorporation, he argues, held back both economic and political development. These practices aren’t inherent in the religion—they emerged long after the establishment of Islam, and have partly receded from use in the modern era. But they left a profound legacy in many societies where Islam held sway.”

The entire article is available on Boston.com.