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Fall 2024 Course

Economic Analysis of Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: In Class

What effects does law have? Do corporations pollute less, market safer products, and adhere more often to their contractual obligations in order to avoid suit? Is innovation spurred by intellectual property rights? Are individuals led to comply with the tax rules, drive more carefully, and commit fewer crimes by the prospect of sanctions for wrongdoing?

Such questions about the influence of legal rules on outcomes––and about the social desirability of the outcomes––have been investigated by legal scholars and economists in a systematic manner since the 1970s. Their approach is widely considered to be intellectually important and to be of significant value in practice.

This course will survey the field of economic analysis of law and illustrate its relevance to judicial decisions, legal argument, expert witness work, and public policy. The subjects covered are the major building blocks of law: torts, contracts, property law, criminal law, and the legal process.

The course will also address the tension between functional, economic arguments and those phrased in moral terms. The course is aimed at a general audience of students; no background in economics is needed to take it.

Textbook: Steven Shavell. Foundations of Economic Analysis of Law, Harvard University Press, 2004 (available for free downloading from the Law School library).