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Comments on Sergio Puig’s ‘Social Capital in the Arbitration Market’

Published on September 23, 2014        Author: 

Tom SchultzThomas Schultz is a Reader in Commercial Law in the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London and a Swiss National Science Foundation Research Professor in the International Law Department at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Dispute Settlement (Oxford University Press).

Professor Puig’s article ‘Social Capital in the Arbitration Market’ is a quite wonderful contribution to a number of things: our understanding of the dynamics of investment arbitration, the literature on arbitrator appointments, the methodological diversification of studies in international law, and certainly a few more. And it brings us rather convincing evidence, in a field where claims and representations (not to speak of copious discussions of what other people happen to have said) are more readily found than data and studies to substantiate claims. It is, in other words, intellectually edifying. The experimental design is well done, the plan well executed and the findings credible. In this, it is intellectually responsive to developments in the social sciences and the humanities. We don’t even need a mood-elevating metaphor to set great store by this sort of works, and this work in particular. (Incidentally, the study is also a formidable ‘who’s who in investment arbitration’, which undoubtedly will make for welcome entertainment in certain circles.)

A few small methodological points would probably deserve more discussion. (I said ‘would deserve’, not ‘would have deserved’: the article is long enough as it is and this is a law journal after all.) For instance, the author says that ‘The network analysis advanced in this article relies upon displayed preferences by the appointing entity (litigation parties, arbitrators, and the institution) to provide a larger picture of the network’s aggregate topology.’ But how do we know the preferences of the appointing entity? Right, by looking at appointments. But do effective appointments really tell us what the preferences are? What if individuals, who are the preferred choices of the appointing entity, refuse an appointment, and the appointing entity has to turn to their second or third choice? Never happens. Well… Actually, could such situations be statistically relevant?

Another methodological point: Figure 8 is puzzling. Not puzzling as in ‘probably wrong’. Puzzling as in ‘how come’? Here’s the author’s accompanying notes: “Figure 8 shows how, despite the fact that most ICSID cases were registered in the last 10 years, most ‘power-brokers’ or those arbitrators at the top of the profession entered the network in or prior to 2004.” In other words, the mid-2000s is the moment when you see the network effects. Why? Why did the network stabilise at that point in time? The network seems to have acquired self-organisational elements at that point in time, but, again, why then? Any hypothesis? Just happenstance? Just puzzling.

Beyond methodological considerations, we may also wonder–and perhaps the author wants to elaborate on this–why, in fact, it is a bad thing that a small number of arbitrators decide a great number of cases. Read the rest of this entry…

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