Arnold Kling  

Anglosphere Challenge

Education Loans... Futurology...

I've started reading The Anglosphere Challenge by James C. Bennett. I'm only up to Chapter One, but already it is very stimulating. For example:

In popular misconceptions, it is imagined that in America and the other advanced countries people will sit and peck at computers, while manufacturing will be done somewhere in the Second or Third World, in factories which resemble existing facilities. This is a complete misconception of the transition from the Industrial to the Information Age. Consider the parallel transition from the Agricultural to the Industrial Age. When Britain and America became industrialized, they did not cease producing food. In fact the United States became the greatest food exporter in the world because it mastered the Machine Age early. Those who master information technology will likewise hold mastery over manufacturing.

I recall reading that even China has been losing manufacturing jobs.

Bennett goes on to write,

In the past two decades, we have observed such varied phenomena as differing responses of nations to the end of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, collapse of the East Asian neo-Confucian bubble, and revival of entrepreneurism in Britain in the wake of the Thatcher reforms. These experiences have created a better appreciation of the link between a strong civil society and prosperity. In the emerging economy of this new Scientific-Technical Revolution, these strong civil-society values will be even more central to success.

A civil society is built of a vast network of networks. These networks start with the individual and the families, community organizations, congregations, social organizations, and businesses created by individuals coming together voluntarily.

His view is that Great Britain and its descendents have a richer and deeper civil society. Along these lines, consider this article by Nicholas Thompson.

According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.

The article discusses the research of Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert Vishny.

Bennett argues that common law arose in Britain precisely because there the strong civil society, which in Bennett's usage means a society that where loose, flexible social arrangements take over for feudal hierarchies, resisted top-down rules. He argues that strong civil society is a precondition for effective democratic government, common law rule, and free markets.

For Discussion. What other explanations are there for the emergence of a common law tradition as opposed to a civil law tradition?

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
glory writes:

didn't hernando de soto say something similar wrt countries founded on spanish law vs english law? e.g. relatively successful commonwealth nations, HK singapore & india, as well as secondary offshoots from the US - japan, taiwan and s.korea (ignoring the philippines).

contrast with latin america and that's the 'mystery of capital' as it were, altho there's another book i suspect yet to be written on the success of development models (or lack thereof) now being deployed by the likes of the EU, russia, brazil & china.

or whether islamic law can ever be the basis for a thriving economy (see doha and dubai). i also think it will be interesting as to what, if any, development influence india or china will have on africa.

the antecedent i think is the 'protestant work ethic' and resurrecting it i believe raises the right questions and offers hope that nations (and perhaps even transnational groupings) may pursue effective development despite their legal provenance.

while import substitution and industrial policy models and the like have had only limited success thus far, it looks as if creating a better legal framework for capital incentives is the necessary condition for progress. this opens the door for an 'equality of opportunity' of sorts on a global scale rather than being stuck by circumstance in a 'genetic lottery' of legal inheritance depending on who you happened to be colonized by or lose a war to.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

What other explanations are there for the emergence of a common law tradition as opposed to a civil law tradition?

The spread of Education beyond the Privileged. This was actually brought on by the placement of Taxes. The British Crown insisted in being paid in Coin, rather than tithed measures of grains etc. Commoners soon learned they could be overtaxed without knowledge of accounting procedures. Their protests in this arena soon turned to other areas of Crown control. lgl

back40 writes:

But common law is very old, 900 years old or so, far older than Napoleonic civil law. Is it only that Britain resisted Napoleon? Did other nations, such as The Netherlands, have common law cultures before Napoleon's conquest? Is it English rather than British? What happened to those English 900 years ago?

rw writes:

Not quite on-topic, but: in a book review in the current National Interest Bennett praises the work of Alan Macfarlane on the origins and influence of English individualism. Had never heard of him, but looks interesting. Website here:

What happened to those English 900 years ago?

1066. The Norman Conquest.

Rick Gaber writes:

The previous posters have some fascinating food for thought; thanks to you all. I would add that it's not just the English sense of individualism, it's the English/Scots sense of personal responsibility, especially among those who became Protestants.

I postulate that the French, the Spanish, the arabs, and most other cultures tended to disparage the very ideas of personal responsibility and pride of accomplishment through interpretations of Catholic or Muslim (or whatever) teachings which resulted in feelings of worthlessness and helplessness among the vast majority of their citizens (victims).

glory writes:

speaking of which, martin wolf writes today on "Why are English-speaking nations doing best?" [sub req'd]

the byline:

Complacency set in and economies that were catching up failed to adjust to new circumstances. By contrast the US, UK and others have made steady progress.

basically arguing along bennett's line that:

[P]oor relative (and even absolute) performance in the 1960s and 1970s stimulated substantial reform in all four countries [Australia, Canada, UK, US] (not to mention Ireland and New Zealand). They not only deregulated their economies significantly but made substantial improvements in monetary and fiscal discipline, as well.


[T]heir economies seemed to be relatively good at exploiting the new knowledge-intensive opportunities for higher productivity.

which leaves:

[W]ill this turnround in relative performance last? Will the English-speaking countries continue to drive ahead of the others, fall behind, once again, or end up level-pegging.
If experience has shown anything, it is the folly of extrapolating past success. The English-speaking countries have evident points of weakness: the US, UK and Australia are all running sizeable current account deficits; the UK and US have used aggressive fiscal policy to sail through the recent slowdown; and all four countries have very low rates of household savings. Corrections in any of these (interconnected) areas could be painful.
Again, the macroeconomic policy blunders that have affected Japan and much of the eurozone over the past decade must end at some point. But will entrenched interest groups allow these countries to raise returns on investment, increase flexibility of product and labour markets and so, once again, outperform the English-speaking countries? The next 10 years will provide the answer.

not very conclusive! (nor satisfying :) i guess we'll see :D


spencer writes:

One reason for the English difference is they never had a social revolution in the sense of the French or communist revolutions where the established institution were overthrown and replaced with new "designed" systems.

Walker writes:

On the "Anglosphere challenge" -- take the United States out of the equation, and there is no basis for saying that English-speaking countries are any more "pathbreaking" than other industrialized nations. Despite the supposed "Neo-Confucian collapse", the East Asian region is still growing much faster than the "Anglosphere". In addition, Western European countries that are not of the English tradition all have more or less comparable wealth to the Anglophone nations. Overall it looks like a very thin case.

dilbert dogbert writes:

Check out Bill Berstein's "The Birth of Plenty" He pounds his 4 topics: Secure Propery Rights, The Scientific Method, The Modern Capital Marketplace and Transportation. He needs a better editor as these topics get repetitious. He likes groups of 4 as his book on investing was titled "The Four Pillars of Investing".
Interesting read no matter.

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