Summary: A burgeoning literature finds that financial development exerts a first-order impact on long-run economic growth, which raises critical questions, such as why do some countries have well-developed growth-enhancing financial systems while others do not? The law and finance theory focuses on the role of legal institutions in explaining international differences in financial development. First, the law and finance theory holds that in countries where legal systems enforce private property rights, support private contractual arrangements, and protect the legal rights of investors, savers are more willing to finance firms and financial markets flourish. Second, the different legal traditions that emerged in Europe over previous centuries and were spread internationally through conquest, colonization, and imitation help explain cross-country differences in investor protection, the contracting environment, and financial development today. But there are countervailing theories and evidence that challenge both parts of the law and finance theory. Many argue that there is more variation within than across legal origin families. Others question the central role of legal tradition and point to politics, religious orientation, or geography as the dominating factor driving financial development. Finally, some researchers question the central role of legal institutions and argue that other factors, such as a competitive products market, social capital, and informal rules are also important for financial development. Beck and Levine describe the law and finance theory, along with skeptical and competing views, and review empirical evidence on both parts of the law and finance view.
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