by Randall Peerenboom and Tom Ginsburg (eds). New York: The Cambridge University Press, 2014. 386pp. Cloth $99.99. ISBN: 978-1-107-02815-9. Paper $39.99. ISBN: 978-1-107-60919-8.

Reviewed by John Alexander, Department of Political Science, University of California, Irvine. Email: jsalexan [at]


This edited volume contains a diverse set of chapters focusing on issues of law and development in middle-income countries (MICs) from legal scholars and political scientists, as well as NGO workers. The book’s subtitle suggests it focuses on the ‘middle-income trap’ or why so many countries fail to progress out of middle-income status. However, the essays inside address a number of different issues associated with MICs including developmental models, good governance, and the judicialization of social and economic rights. The resulting work makes a clear contribution to our understanding of the assorted challenges facing this important group of countries. It will be of use to scholars across disciplines with interests in the developing world and offers a great introduction to those unfamiliar with some of the issues confronting MICs.

The book contains sixteen chapters divided across five parts and seeks answers to a number of different questions. Randall Peerenboom’s excellent introduction outlines eight different questions related to MICs that are addressed to varying degrees in the following chapters. These include: is MIC a useful analytic category, is there a middle income trap, other than wealth what do countries that have moved from MIC to high-income country (HIC) have in common, what are the benefits and challenges of globalization for MICs, what is the relationships between wealth, the rule of law, and good governance, and how can MICs best deal with pressing socioeconomic issues? The individual chapters use a variety of different methods and almost all are comparative. Regionally, the book focuses on Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Part I examines ‘The Politics of Development in MICs’ and contains two chapters that highlight how political considerations can prevent MICs from adopting the policies necessary to advance beyond middle-income status. In chapter 2 Tom Ginsburg argues that MICs must create more autonomous courts in order to join the ranks of HICs. However, autonomous courts cannot develop without particular institutional underpinnings and political conditions that are often missing in MICs. These prerequisites are often absent because of decisions made earlier in the development process. Surain Subramaniam compares the developmental states of Singapore and Malaysia in chapter 3, and argues Singapore’s success is due in part to political interests taking a backseat to the goal of development. In contrast, Malaysia struggles to deliver on its development goals because policies are [*334] altered to make concessions to politically powerful ethnic groups. As a consequence, authoritarianism remains stable in Singapore, while Malaysia’s government confronts increasing calls for liberalization in the face of the government’s failure to deliver on its economic promises.

Part II focuses on economic issues related to MICs. For instance, Chapters 4 and 5 investigate the unique position of larger MICs as they engage with HICs, low-income countries (LICs) and other MICs on issues of trade and intellectual property. Both chapters highlight the variation within MICs and in particular how the interests of MICs shift as they approach HIC status. As MICs increase their aggregate income their power grows making them better able to advocate for the interests of other MICs. At the same time, MICs’ increasing wealth shifts their interests away from the MICs they are leaving behind and towards the HICs they are soon to join. Chapter 6 compares the production regimes of East Asia and Europe/America to highlight the different ways East Asian businesses operate. John Gillespie contends East Asia’s rapid development is due, in part, to the East Asian transnational production regime, which is informal, more flexible, and better able to encourage technological innovation and economic development than the more formalized Western regime.

Part III looks at issues of governance in MICs. Chapter 7 highlights the failure of the Washington Consensus model of limited government to deliver economic development in Central and Eastern Europe. Bojan Bugaric argues for a more flexible development model where the state plays a more active role in development. Chapter 8 compares how constitutional courts in Mexico and Colombia have dealt with the jurisdiction of military courts in a region with a history of military intervention. Julio Ríos-Figueroa and Fernanda Gómez-Abán demonstrate how Colombia’s court progressively, but pragmatically, narrowed the jurisdiction of military courts while the Mexican court consistently upheld a broader military jurisdiction. As a result, civil-military relations in Colombia are more stable and a better balance is struck between the citizens’ rights and the military’s interest in securing due process and fair treatment for soldiers. Chapter 9 looks at the on going challenge of combating corruption in MICs. Kevin Davis flatly rejects that there is any one solution to corruption in MICs. Instead, echoing a conclusion found in a number of chapters, he argues for more flexible and adaptive policies that take into account each country’s unique needs and capacities. Chapter 10 compares how effective different countries are at delivering justice and theorizes about the cause of these differences. Juan Carlos Botero finds income is a strong determinant of justice. HICs do a better job of delivering justice than MICs, which do a better job than LICs. Among HICs, differences in the delivery of justice are attributed to differences in legal origin, but these effects do not hold at lower income levels.

Part IV surveys a variety of different socio-economic challenges facing MICs. Chapters 11, 12, and 13 all focus on courts and their role in the judicialization of social and economic rights in MICs, while Chapter 14 highlights different [*335] ways MICs attempt to enforce environmental standards. In Chapter 11 Daniel Brinks and William Forbath show that MICs are at the forefront of the judicialization of social and economic rights because their constitutions incorporate such rights (unlike HICs) and because they have the resources to support these rights (unlike LICs). In chapter 12 César Rodríguez-Garavito looks specifically at the positives and negatives of the judicialization of health care in Colombia. Judicialization allows citizens to overcome persistent failures of the health care system and get the care they need. However, it is also inefficient, costly to the state, and creates inequalities when decisions only impact the litigant and not the whole of society. As a result, Rodríguez-Garavito argues courts need to focus their rulings on addressing the underlying structural and institutional flaws that drive people to the courts rather than issuing limited rulings that only address the particular problem of the litigant. While Chapter 12 demonstrates the potential benefits of judicialization, Chapter 13 suggests in some cases judicialization may not be the best avenue for rights protection. Since 2000 both China and Indonesia enacted institutional and legal reforms increasing the judicialization of labor issues. However, unlike in Colombia, increased judicialization has not necessarily improved rights protection in these countries, leading the author to conclude workers may be better off seeking rights protection through improvements in the capacity of oversight agencies or by pressuring for different legislation. In chapter 14, Benjamin van Rooij and Lesley K. McAllister look more closely at the different ways in which large MICs go about overcoming administrative deficiencies and enforcing environmental regulations. The selected countries all incorporated outside actors into the process in order to enhance the capacity of their oversight agencies. China increased capacity by involving citizens in the oversight process, Brazil made use of public prosecutors, Indonesia relied in part on self-reporting and public disclosure, and Mexico created a program that allowed businesses to submit to inspections by private firms.

Part V contains only one chapter and centers on how international donors deal with MICs. Drawing on his own experience in Vietnam, Nicholas Booth argues that the United Nations Development Program’s policies for improving economic development do not work as well for addressing governance issues. In particular, he contends the best strategy is to create in-house policy advisors that are more sensitive to the local context and capable of creating more flexible development plans.

As this review should make clear, the book addresses a wide-range of issues facing MICs. This allows the book to answer a number of different questions relating to MICs. However, some chapters do not explain clearly how they contribute to answering the questions outlined in the introduction. The conclusion, again by Peerenboom, does do a good job knitting the chapters together to reach some initial conclusions about MICs, but it would be useful to the reader if each chapter more explicitly addressed the ways it contributes to the overarching conclusions of the book. Never the less, each chapter stands alone and holds the [*336] reader’s interest. Furthermore, by focusing on such a variety of different issues the authors produce a compelling survey of the different challenges facing MICs. This broad scope makes the book well suited for use in courses dealing with the general topics of development, law and development, and the politics of developing countries. The book also illustrates MICs are a fertile ground for scholars outside economics by highlighting a variety of different avenues of research. On the whole, the book makes a clear contribution to our understanding of MICs and contains chapters that will be of interest to scholars across disciplines.

Copyright 2014 by the Author, John Alexander