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Tirthankar Roy and Anand V. Swamy

Mar 30, 2022

Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy

India 1947 and Beyond

University of Chicago Press 2021

In Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy: India 1947 and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 2022), Dr. Tirthankar Roy and Dr. Anand Swamy present an essential history of India’s economic growth since 1947, including the legal reforms that have shaped the country in the shadow of colonial rule. They argue that “colonial rule left India a highly unequal society with a complicated structure of land rights, a slow and dysfunctional legal system, and a state that was all powerful in some areas.”

Economists have long lamented how the inefficiency of India’s legal system undermines the country’s economic capacity. How has this come to be? The prevailing explanation is that the postcolonial legal system is understaffed and under-resourced, making adjudication and contract enforcement slow and costly.

Taking this as given, Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy examines the contents and historical antecedents of these laws, including how they have stifled economic development. Dr. Roy and Dr. Swamy argue that legal evolution in independent India has been shaped by three factors: the desire to reduce inequality and poverty; the suspicion that market activity, both domestic and international, can be detrimental to these goals; and the strengthening of Indian democracy over time, giving voice to a growing fraction of society, including the poor. They conclude that “the weaknesses of the legal framework were probably not the binding constraint on growth” and that “at least in the short-term, the Indian economy will have to develop in spite of its legal system.”

Weaving the story of India’s heralded economic transformation with its social and political history, Dr. Roy and Dr. Swamy show how inadequate legal infrastructure has been a key impediment to the country’s economic growth during the last century. A stirring and authoritative history of a nation rife with contradictions, Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand India’s current crossroads—and the factors that may keep its dreams unrealized.

This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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Miranda Melcher

Miranda Melcher (Ph.D., Defense Studies, Kings College, London) studies post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with deep analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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