Law in Hiding: Market Principles in the Global Legal Order

Odette Lienau

Volume 68, Issue 3, 541-608

Standing in the background of the global legal order are a range of what might be called “market principles” or “market givens”collective presentations or beliefs about how markets workwhich are treated as objective descriptions at a particular time and place. This Article argues that such market givens should be understood as a kind of “law in hiding,” shaping the policy space available to states and other actors and affecting global legal developments in important but unrecognized ways. Drawing on examples from global financial law, rules on capital mobility, and sovereign debt practices, I demonstrate how market principles can provide the real substantive content for conventionally recognized law, effectively counter official law, and act as powerful rules in the absence of clear legal standards. I further consider why “law” is a suitable categorization for these market principles, adopting a broad definition that derives from and pushes forward recent international legal scholarship. I contend that deliberately incorporating market principles into our understanding of the global legal order would be not only theoretically plausible but also productive, especially by expanding the field of legal work and activism and by raising important questions about lawmaking mechanisms, accountability, and norm coherence. I also suggest that market principles have thus far escaped attention from lawyers in part because of tendencies and assumptions in multiple variants of international legal scholarship itself.

In highlighting how market principles play a role in the global legal order, I do not intend to grant them the legitimacy or presumptive obedience sometimes associated with the label “law.” Indeed, my motivation draws in part from a concern with the capacity of these market principles to effectively undermine policy options that may lead to better outcomes. My goal, instead, is to place them as squarely as possible at the center of legal analysis and critiqueand therefore to level the playing field between these market principles and other types of principles and values we may care about.

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