Legal Institutions and Economic Activities

This course examines the history of legal institutions and laws most relevant to economic activity (such as property rights, contract rules and business organizations) and economic performance. It is generally accepted that legal institutions and legal rules can be important factors in economic growth and development. However, a non-historical economic analysis of law is not sufficient. History matters. As a World Bank Report states: “Understanding the processes and mechanisms by which … ‘institutions’ in the abstract came to take specific concrete forms in particular times and places, how political and social processes of institutional change were encouraged and/or thwarted, and what such understandings might tell us about contemporary policy efforts to ‘improve’ institutions in settings often far  removed (geographically, culturally, politically) from quantitative data, on which those understandings were generated.”

The first part of the course looks at certain historical periods, eg, pre-historical eras, Egypt/Mesopotamia, classical Athens, Rome, medieval and early modern Europe, the Industrial Revolution, and Qing China. The focus is on legal institutions against a background of economic history, with discussion of their possible relevance to contemporary development issues. Cross-period issues also will be examined, including:  the role of firms and business organizations in economic growth; the role of (intellectual) property rights in economic growth; the role of legal institutions in the Industrial Revolution; the “Great Divergence” between China and the West after 1800; the comparative development of North America and South America after 1500; Islamic law and economic development; and the Legal Origins Debate.  Other topics may be covered, depending on the interests and experiences of the course participants.

Credits: 2

Type: SEM