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In this colorful and consistently engaging work, law and economics professor Gillian Hadfield picks up where New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman left off in his influential 2005 book, The World is Flat. Friedman was focused on the infrastructure of communications and technology-the new web-based platform that allows business to follow the hunt for lower costs, higher value and greater efficiency around the planet seemingly oblivious to the boundaries of nation states. Hadfield peels back this technological platform to look at the 'structure that lies beneath'—our legal infrastructure, the platform of rules about who can do what, when and how. Often taken for granted, economic growth throughout human history has depended at least as much on the evolution of new systems of rules to support ever-more complex modes of cooperation and trade as it has on technological innovation. When Google rolled out YouTube in over one hundred countries around the globe simultaneously, for example, it faced not only the challenges of technology but also the staggering problem of how to build success in the context of a bewildering and often conflicting patchwork of nation-state-based laws and legal systems affecting every aspect of the business-contract, copyright, encryption, censorship, advertising and more. Google is not alone. A study presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2011 found that for global firms, the number one challenge of the modern economy is increasing complexity, and the number one source of complexity is law. Today, even our startups, the engines of economic growth, are global from Day One.
Put simply, the law and legal methods on which we currently rely have failed to evolve along with technology. They are increasingly unable to cope with the speed, complexity, and constant border-crossing of our new globally inter-connected environment. Our current legal systems are still rooted in the politics-based nation state platform on which the industrial revolution was built. Hadfield argues that even though these systems supported fantastic growth over the past two centuries, today they are too slow, costly, cumbersome and localized to support the exponential rise in economic complexity they fostered. While everything else in the economy strives to become cheaper, sleeker and faster, our outdated approach to law hampers the invention of new products, the development of new business models, the structuring of global supply chains, the management of the risks posed by complex technologies, the evolution of financial, ecological, and other systems, as well as the protection of people and businesses as they and their products travel around the globe. They also fail to address looming challenges such as global warming and the reduction of poverty and oppression in the developing countries that are the backyard of global business.
The answer to our troubles with law, however, is not the one critics usually reach for—to have less of it. Recognizing that law provides critical infrastructure for the cooperation and collaboration on which economic growth is built is the first step, Hadfield argues, to building a legal environment that does more of what we need it to do and less of what we don't. Through a sweeping review of first the invention and then the evolution of law over thousands of years of human development and the ways in which rule systems have consistently adapted to higher levels of complexity, Hadfield stresses that the state-based legal systems governing us today are not the only way to build the planks of a legal platform. Going back to fundamentals, she shows how historically, law's primary purpose has been to help societies to cope with the essential issues of trust, commitment, risk-allocation, and distribution that we face in coordinating cooperative ventures. While nation-state laws will never disappear, the time has come for us to supplement our legal infrastructure with rules developed on the same global platform as our economy. Hadfield offers a model for a more market- and globally-oriented legal system that fosters greater participation of end-users, market actors, and other non-governmental entities.
Combining an impressive grasp of the empirical details of economic globalization with an ambitious re-envisioning of our global legal system, Rules for a Flat World promises to be a crucial and influential intervention into the debates surrounding how best to manage the evolving global economy.