Thursday, November 2, 2006
I'm just back from a quick trip to Beijing, where my colleague Tom Ginsburg arranged for the two of us to speak at the China University of Politics and Law and Beijing University Faculty of Law. The scholars at the CUPL who staff the Center for Law and Economics were warm hosts and marvelously well-trained in law and economics. The students to whom we spoke at CUPL were attentive, well informed, and very grateful. And they asked for autographs! Similarly at Bei-Da: the students all knew law and economics well, spoke English beautifully, and clearly thought that law and economics was one of the most important aspects of their legal education.
There are 100,000 law students in China today, more students than in engineering. And all of the law students are interested in law and economics. Why? I kept asking that question, and here is my digest and interpretation of the answers that I got. The very rapid development, commercialization, and privatization of the Chinese economy that is going on (of which we saw startling evidence) can be tracked and controlled only lightly by the administrative state. The government is, I think, relying on private ordering through a vigorous and well-educated legal profession to keep the excesses of this rapid growth to a minimum. Ron Gilson's marvelous characterization of lawyers as "transaction cost engineers" seems to be at the heart of the Chinese interest in law and economics.