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Formal Law as a Magnet to Reform Custom

Author

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  • Gani Aldashev
  • Imane Chaara
  • Jean-Philippe Platteau
  • Zaki Wahhaj

Abstract

The question of the role of statutory law in social environments permeated by custom and traditional norms is particularly important when the statutory law aims to correct social inequalities embedded in the customs. The conventional view is that formal law often fails to take root in custom-driven societies, especially when the formal law conflicts with custom. We present a simple analytical model with elite members and commoners as contendants in front of a customary judge. If unhappy with the customary judge's verdict, a contendant can make recourse to a formal court, but at a cost of social exclusion. We find that from the low activity of formal courts one cannot infer that the statutory law is irrelevant. We describe an indirect ("magnet") effect of formal law: by serving as an alternative forum for commoners, the formal system induces the customary judge (who tries to keep commoners within his jurisdiction) to adjust his verdicts toward the interests of commoners. We illustrate this mechanism through an in-depth case study of the so-called PNDC Law 111 on Intestate Succession in Ghana. Radicalism in legal reform may defeat its own purpose: under certain conditions, a gradual reform better serves the interests of the disadvantaged.

Suggested Citation

  • Gani Aldashev & Imane Chaara & Jean-Philippe Platteau & Zaki Wahhaj, 2012. "Formal Law as a Magnet to Reform Custom," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60(4), pages 795-828.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:ecdecc:doi:10.1086/665607
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Timur Kuran, 2004. "The Economic Ascent of the Middle East’s Religious Minorities: The Role of Islamic Legal Pluralism," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 475-515, June.
    2. Aldashev, Gani & Chaara, Imane & Platteau, Jean-Philippe & Wahhaj, Zaki, 2012. "Using the law to change the custom," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 182-200.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cecchi, Francesco & Melesse, Mequanint Biset, 2016. "Formal law and customary change: A lab-in-field experiment in Ethiopia," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 67-85.
    2. repec:oup:jeurec:v:15:y:2017:i:2:p:245-295. is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Pedro Naso & Erwin Bulte & Tim Swanson, 2017. "Can there be benefits from competing legal regimes? The impact of legal pluralism in post-conflict Sierra Leone," CIES Research Paper series 56-2017, Centre for International Environmental Studies, The Graduate Institute.
    4. Chaara, Imane, 2011. "Pro-Women Legal Reform in Morocco: Is Religion an Obstacle?," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 17, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    5. Jean-Philippe Platteau & Guilia Camilotti & Emmanuelle Auriol, 2017. "Eradicating women-hurting customs: What role for social engineering?," WIDER Working Paper Series 145, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    6. Daron Acemoglu & Matthew O. Jackson, 2017. "Social Norms and the Enforcement of Laws," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 245-295.
    7. Imane Chaara, 2012. "Pro-Women Legal Reform in Morocco: Is Religion an Obstacle?," Working Papers 685, Economic Research Forum, revised 2012.

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