The American Illness
: Law, U.S. Lawyers, Regulation and Litigation
: Yale University Press
Fifty years ago we thought we knew how to make a country rich: selfgovernment,
good education, free markets, and loads of World Bank
infrastructure grants. Nothing very complicated, in short. We know
better now. The gap between rich and poor countries, which we expected
to shrink, has grown larger. What we failed to recognize was the role of
intangible assets: the cultural values of thrift and industry, honesty in government,
and the rule of law.
What the rule of law might mean is, as we shall see, not always clear.
But however one might defi ne it, rich countries enjoy a robust rule of law,
and departures from it in third- world countries have left their citizens impoverished.
More recently, America itself has suffered from an economic
decline, and this book asks, with the assistance of leading scholars in the
legal academy, whether a decline in the rule of law has contributed to this.
America sends experts to lecture people in other countries about the importance
of the rule of law, but in doing so, do we fail to recognize the
beam in our own eye?
America’s legal system, and its reliance upon lawyers, has long made it
the world’s outlier. Other countries seem to depend more on informal social
norms and less on legal ones. Here, however, the rule of lawyers seems
almost to be coded in the country’s DNA. Or so at least Edmund Burke thought, as he surveyed the men whom today we call the Found ers of
America. In his 1775 Speech on the Conciliation with the Colonies, Burke
attributed the “untractable” spirit of the colonists to their lawyers and students
of law: “This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt
in attack, ready in defence, full of resources. In other countries, the people,
more simple, and of a less mercurial class, judge of an ill principle in government
only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil. . . . They
augur misgovernance at a distance; and sniff the approach of tyranny in
every tainted breeze.
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