Findings of cross-cultural psychology suggest that different approaches to rule enforcement have cultural roots. Individualist societies have established a rule of law, in which rules prevail; collectivist societies have a rule of man, which allows discretionary rule enforcement, which, in turn, is recognized as an obstacle to sustained increases in productive long-term investment in developing countries. This paper presents a model that offers a unified framework to explain rule enforcement as social optimization processes in both individualist and collectivist societies and, on this basis, highlights the essential differences between a rule of law and a rule man (i.e., between rules and discretion). The paper uses this framework to show that cross-country variations in rule enforcement are explained to a considerable extent by cultural values. The paper then uses the framework to show how the imported multi-stage rule enforcement institutions based on separation of powers in vertically-oriented collectivist societies, unlike in the individualist societies from which they originate, might not ensure as low a degree of discretion as intended. Finally, the paper uses these results to explore practical ideas that would help collectivist societies benefit from rule enforcement with low discretion.
rule of law rule of man collectivism discretion enforcement individualism institutions rules