As a followup to the previous entry’s reference to law practice restrictions that exist in the US and are considered or being put in place in important new economies like Brazil and India, a recent article in The Economist discussed the significant drag such restrictions have on countries’ attempts to improve productivity. Following are among the most relevant bits, as the Brits say.

"[T]he politicians’ current focus on fostering productivity growth via exciting high-tech breakthroughs misses a big part of what really drives innovation: the diffusion of better business processes and management methods. This sort of innovation is generally the result of competitive pressure. The best thing that governments can do to foster new ideas is to get out of the way. This is especially true in the most regulated and least competitive parts of the economy, notably services."

"[F]or many rich countries the quickest route to faster productivity growth will be to use the crisis to deregulate the service sector. A recent study by the Bank of France and the OECD looked at 20 sectors in 15 OECD countries between 1984 and 2007. It found that reducing regulation on ‘upstream’ services would have a marked effect not just on productivity in those sectors but also on other parts of the economy. The logic is simple: more efficient lawyers, distributors or banks enable firms across the economy to become more productive. The size of the potential gains calculated by the Bank of France is stunning. Getting rid of all price, market-entry and other competition-restricting regulations would boost annual total factor productivity growth by one percentage point in a typical country in their sample, enough to more than double its pace… [E]ven the more modest goal of embracing “best practice” would yield large benefits. The IMF has calculated that if countries could reduce regulation to the average of the least restrictive three OECD countries, annual productivity growth would rise by some 0.2 percentage points in America, 0.3 percentage points in the euro area and 0.6 percentage points in Japan."

It may be time for US policies such as banning non-lawyer investment in legal practices and even requiring state-by-state bar qualification to become relics from a less productive past.