Arrunada Seminar: Nuno Garoupa – From the Washington Consensus to Arruñada’s Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange
| Nuno Garoupa |
From the Washington Consensus to Arruñada’s Institutional Foundations of Impersonal Exchange
Since the Washington Consensus and the deregulation movement took place thirty years ago, administrative simplification and reduction of bureaucracy has been on the agenda of policymakers. In fact, economists tended to agree that a strongly market-based approach requires an effective public administration imposing light burdens on economic players (thus creating a business-friendly economic environment). This view was later popularized by De Soto’s The Other Path in 1989 which inspired the work of many international organizations and the (by now) famous Doing Business Project in the late 1990s. Simplification, cutting red tape, one-stop bureaucratic agencies, reduction of licenses and procedures, de-formalizing business activities have become popular slogans with many governments around the world.
The important work of Benito Arruñada takes a fresh look at these issues. We all know that the Washington Consensus promotes deregulation, but it also defends strong legal security for property rights (understood in a nontechnical way, that is, both rights in rem and rights in personam) in the tradition of Coase, Williamson and North. In his book, Arruñada convincingly shows that certain simplifications of procedures and some forms of de-formalization actually hurt important safeguards. In other words, there could be an intrinsic and convoluted trade-off between the popularized programs of administrative simplification and adequate legal certainty. Eliminating certain formalisms might save some apparent costs in the immediate, but augment considerably transaction costs in time, therefore damaging the proper functioning of markets.
Economists have a tendency to see formalism as an example of capture by private interests, thus promoting rents, increasing transaction costs and, as a consequence, damaging business activity (including business creation and investment) and economic growth. In the context of contractual registries, Arruñada explains that some formalism responds to efficient institutional design precisely to reduce transaction costs and facilitate impersonal exchange. More importantly, in the absence of such formalism, efficient transactions might not take place and market failures could be more acute.
My understanding of the policy implications from Arruñada’s work is simple. First, not all simplification is good, not all formalism is bad. A degree of formalism is important to promote development and trade in a globalized world of impersonal exchange. Second, when de-formalizing, policymakers should consider the extent to which they are eliminating unnecessary procedures (those in place to satisfy mainly a few particular private interests) and not institutions governing property rights protection. Finally, the appropriate formalization in the context of contractual registries (for property as well as for business transactions) responds to a set of determinants identified by Arruñada that could vary across jurisdictions. Concerning de-formalizing, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” policy.
Professor Nuno Garoupa. H. Ross and Helen Workman Research Scholar. Co-Director, Illinois Program on Law, Behavior and Social Science
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