Sunday, March 23, 2014

Law & Economics: A (Re-) Introduction


If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re already pretty well acquainted with law & economics, and maybe even some of us bloggers, too.  (If you don’t know the bloggers, you can find our bios by clicking on “about” in the bar at the top of this page, and some of us may also say another word or two about themselves as we begin to post.)  Still, for the benefit of our grandmothers, and for the occasional reader who may have accidentally clicked here instead of “Land Use” or “Law Deans,” let me say a bit more about the field and why we’re blogging about it.

            I’ll start by talking about pizza.  There are lots of varieties of pizza these days.  Obviously, as a New Yorker, I think the thin, greasy kind you have to fold in half to eat (and no, you should never, ever, touch it with a knife & fork) is the best.  That stuff they serve in New Haven is fit only to be consumed by the losers of football games.  Many other folks, though, associate pizza with a variety served up by a certain city in the Midwest, oft known for its strong breezes.  That pizza is hearty, it is deep, it is full of gusto.  But friends, it isn’t all the pizza there is.

            Long story short, economics is a methodology, not an ideology.  On this blog, and in the field of law & economics, you’ll find people with political commitments of almost every variety.  You’ll find people who stick resolutely to certain simplifying assumptions about the world that, in their view, render it more easily understood; you’ll also find those who want to challenge those assumptions. 

            What, then, is the common methodology?  Others here may differ, but for me the central point of law & economics is to analyze legal questions as problems of maximizing scarce resources, typically under the assumption that the maximand (oh, yes, it is also very much about the lingo!) is individual revealed preferences.  As Nate Silver said recently of social science more generally, law & economics prioritizes careful examination of causation above assertions or simple verification of facts.  But of course you probably can still find a hundred bald assertions and glaring assumptions in even very good work by smart people.  Pizza!  Some of it has anchovies on it, some of it is made by Stouffer’s.  And yet some is still worth eating.

            Some of what this blog will do is restaurant review.  We’ll try to direct you to the good stuff, and tell you why we think it’s important.  I hope that we won’t shy from telling you when something that’s gotten a lot of attention is still deeply flawed.  We’ll argue about that.  I hope that we’ll make clear our own assumptions.  Maybe we won’t, and then you’ll call us on it. 

            We’ll also serve up some of our own cooking.  Like Silver’s project, ours is in part inspired by what we see as a certain lack of rigorous thinking in most popular outlets.  We want to flag the sloppy causal claims, the lazy predictions, the bad policy, and point readers to some work that does a more thorough job. 

            If this were the first day of class, I would now have to tell you about our class participation policy and where to find the textbook.  So here are some thoughts about how the blog will operate.  You’ll find mostly shorter posts here in the main feed.  Over to the right, and down a bit, you’ll find a box titled “features.”  In there you will soon be able to read longer, deeper dives by our authors.  When the author desires, we will circulate features among ourselves for comment before they’re posted.  So there’s a bit of peer review right here on the blog.  Features will be persistent for a while, as befits the greater time & effort our authors put into them.  Check them out!

About comments.  We’re hoping that your participation will enrich our conversation.  Each author can make up his or her (it’s true, no “her” yet…but soon, we hope) own mind about whether to permit comments.  Our site’s comment policy, which you’ll also be able to see in the “about” tab is:

The Law & Economics Blog is intended for free and uninhibited discussion of law, economics, and other closely related disciplines.  We welcome your participation.  However, the editors and individual post authors reserve the right to remove unrelated comments, comments whose tone is needlessly ad personam, or those that are otherwise harassing, hostile, or would threaten the flow of free and robust conversation.  We reserve further the right to decide solely in our own judgment which comments meet those standards. 

Finally, we want to extend our collective thanks to Tom Ulen, who launched the predecessor of this blog more than five years ago.  We'll try to meet the level of quality he set.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have go eat a slice of ‘za.  Join me?

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