July 29, 2006
This weekend's Wall Street Journal has a terrific article ("Dear Mom and Dad: Please Send Cookies and a New Calculator") about the increasing popularity of math camps. Click here. Included in the article is a qualifying exam for attending one of the camps. You can either click onto the exam in the body of the article or download it here: Download mathcamp-072006.pdf. I'll post the answers later in the week.
Oops! Omission in "Summer Reading"
Yesterday's post, "Summer Reading," listed some recent novels by law professors. I'm certain that I left out many books, but I'm most distressed to have left out one of my favorite novels of last year -- In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. It is a wonderfully good read. Indeed, I used a portion of the book -- pp. 128 - 31 -- as part of my final exam in law and economics. The pages describe a colloquy between a lawyer and a judge regarding the appropriate amount of precaution for an automobile manufacturer to have built into a car and, given that different manufactures build different amounts of safety into their cars and that safer cars cost more, whether consumers then knowingly and rationally purchase the amount of precaution that gives them the greatest utility. The lawyer, representing the defendant-auto manufacturer, makes a law-and-economics argument that the plaintiffs bought a low-precaution car at a low price, thereby knowingly assuming the risk of injury and cannot now ask for relief. The judge appears to make mincemeat of this argument. I invited the students to rewrite Harold's argument against the manufacturer's being held liable, making a better argument. I hope that my appending those three pages (here: Download roosevelt.Excerpt.Shadow.Law and Econ Colloquy.pdf) will be interpreted as educational fair use.
July 28, 2006
One of the joys of being around law professors and law students is that they are an exceptionally articulate and literate group. One way in which these qualities manifest themselves is through art, principally writing. Lawyers and law professors have long produced significant works of art. Think of John Donne and Sir Thomas More, among many others. Has the law produced more artists than other professions? I don't know. That's an interesting empirical question. In contrast, there are only a few economists of whom I'm aware of having produced works of art: Wassily Kandinsky -- before turning to art he studied law and economics (!) and was offered a professorship in economics; Vikram Seth (who was a graduate student in economics at Stanford shortly after I was there and whose novels, poems, and memoirs are superb; see particularly A Suitable Boy, which is one of the longest novels ever published in English but of which each page is captivating) and, stretching to the business world, Wallace Stevens, who was an insurance executive by day and a great poet by night.
The list of contemporary writers who are also lawyers is dauntingly large -- Louis Auchincloss, David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, and Elliot Perlman (whose Seven Types of Ambiguity I recommend very, very highly). And U.S. law professors are strongly represented, too. Stephen Carter of Yale published the highly enjoyable Emperor of Ocean Park in 2003; Paul Goldstein of Stanford, a distinguished scholar of IP, has just published Errors and Omissions, a wonderful mystery, very, very highly recommended, involving ownership claims to a successful movie series; and my former colleague Gary Forrester has just published Houseboating on the Ozarks. Jed Rubinfeld of Yale is said to have a mystery appearing next month.
I'd be grateful to any readers who can lengthen my list of lawyers and economists who have written novels, poems, plays, libretti, or other works of art or painted or danced or composed.
July 24, 2006
New bankruptcy blog
There is a new group blog, Credit Slips, available here, beginning today. The blog is a joint enterprise among a distinguished group of bankruptcy and creditor's rights scholars -- Melissa Jacoby (UNC, Law), Bob Lawless (Illinois, Law), Angie Littwin (Harvard, Law), Katie Porter (Iowa, Law), John Pottow (Michigan, Law), Debb Thorne (Ohio, Sociology and Anthropology), and Elizabeth Warren (Harvard, Law). Highly recommended!
July 19, 2006
Prof. Schelling's Nobel Lecture
I have been returning to the Nobel website periodically to see if Professor Thomas C. Schelling's Nobel Prize Lecture (he and Robert Aumann won last October's Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) had been posted. It has not yet been, but if you have a broadband connection and RealPlayer, you can listen to and watch Professor Schelling's marvelous address on the practical significance of game theory in deterring nuclear war. The talk is about 42 minutes long. Click here.
Since I teach immigration law, I try and follow some of the recent literature on the subject. The law and economics papers written by law professors even these days are still painfully naive (sorry about that). There is lot of new interesting stuff on individual preferences etc. Some of the discussion papers can be found at the IZA web site in Germany. This brings me to a still unresolved issue in law and economics scholarship. That is, very few people (if any) seem to havve training or knowledge of international trade and finance. Consequenly, when they write on international trade issues that may affect say, immigration, writers will simply use antiquated models such as the vintage 2.2.2 H:O model, seemingly unaware of the development of the field since 1980 or so. I shall continue this another time.
July 17, 2006
Spam and Confidence Games
This morning I learned in two separate e-mails that I may have won the Irish National Lottery and that someone in Nigeria needs my immediate help in moving a large amount of money out of the country. I could be a millionaire!
One shouldn't be too quick to scoff at those who respond to these e-mails. The people who perpetrate these schemes are very skillful professional confidence tricksters. They are practicing a confidence game known as the "Spanish prisoner" that has been used to great effect by fraudsters since at least 1588. (See the Wikipedia entry here.) David Mamet has written and directed two marvelous movies about con men -- House of Games (1987) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997). And there is a wonderful article about a Massachusetts psychotherapist and pastor who not only lost thousands of dollars to an e-mail confidence game but is spending several years in prison -- Mitchell Zuckoff, "Annals of Crime: The Perfect Mark," The New Yorker (May 15, 2006).
July 13, 2006
I've written about Kelo v. New London before, and several readers have sent in excellent comments on those posts. I have just finished reading an article about Kelo -- Professor Julia Mahoney's "Kelo's Legacy: Eminent Domain and the Future of Property Rights," available here -- that I very highly recommend and that seems to me to add something significant to the evaluation of that controversial decision.
Professor Mahoney's view is that Kelo may have significantly altered the interpretation of the Public Use Clause of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and thereby given a significant boost to private property rights and imposed a significant constraint on the exercise of the taking power for public purposes. She notes that the two leading cases on the Public Use Clause -- Berman v. Parker and Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff -- hold that the Court will give legislatures (almost) complete deference in the exercise of takings for a public purpose. Among other reasons for this deference is the contention that political processes constrain the legislature so that legislators are unlikely to exercise takings for a public purpose in unconstitutional ways. On this reading of Berman and Midkiff, the Court's holding in Kelo announces a retreat from complete deference to wide-but-not-complete deference.
How wide will the judicial deference be post-Kelo? There are only two ways to know. The traditional way is to wait for courts to resolve future controversies regarding the constitutionality of takings for a public purpose and learn from those decisions where the line of deference lies. The other way -- the one that I strongly favor -- is to recognize that legislatures, municipalities, and others with the power to take may share Professor Mahoney's interpretation and restrain their taking for public purposes. If so, then it may be possible to identify, through careful empirical work, behavioral consequences of Kelo. (Of course, those bodies with the power to take may not share Professor Mahoney's interpretation. They may, instead, believe that Kelo has removed any vestigial constraints on the power to take for a public purpose and, therefore, expand their exercise of the power of eminent domain.)
July 10, 2006
I have been away for several days with very limited (and expensive) computer access for several days. Now that I am back, please look for regular blogs again very couple of days.
July 3, 2006
The latest issue of The Economist has an interesting article about prisons in Great Britain. See here. A "leader" (lead editorial) earlier has some fascinating comparative information on imprisonment rates. Here's what they say: "Britain locks up more of its people than any other country in western Europe: 145 out of every 100,000 compared with France's 88 (though a fraction of America's 738)." Those are very interesting differences. Our rate of incarceration is five times that of Great Britain. Note that an implication of the U.S. figure is that less than 1 percent of the population (0.00738) is incarcerated.