Inflationary Trends in Law and Development

Benjamin van Rooij
Pip Nicholson


This Article analyzes two seemingly contradictory trends in the study and practice of law and development. First, it looks at the ever-rising level of expectations and ambitions about what law can do for development. Second, it looks at the increasingly vocal criticism and frustration, both from inside and outside the field, that law often fails to achieve the desired developmental effects. This Article argues that there is a relationship between increasing ambition and lack of impact. More particularly, it suggests that increasing ambition produces limited impacts but that lack of impact, ironically, leads to recommendations to increase ambition. This Article concludes that this linked evolution originates first from forces outside of the law and development domain, such as increasing pressures on aid efficacy, shifts in developmental paradigms, and increased geopolitical pressures to bring law into post-conflict states and peace- building efforts. The relationship between ambition and lack of impact is also internal to the field, however. Scholars and practitioners operate cyclically, criticizing existing practices in order to launch new and often bolder developments. This Article calls for a break from these cycles, a return to basic interventions that seek to make incremental improvements in the functioning of law in the context of development, and a shift from lofty overarching paradigms that obscure and disappoint, rather than aid, development.