Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Me on Gilson and Ribstein

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Images-1Earlier this summer, I posted elsewhere about two of my summer projects, writing essays for symposia this coming academic year (1) at Illinois in October honoring the memory of Larry Ribstein (left), and (2) at AALS in January commemorating the 30th anniversary of Ron Gilson's (right) publication of his iconic Value Creation by Business Lawyers article in the Yale Unknown Law Journal. I've finished readable (I think) drafts of both, and have posted them on SSRN.  What inspired my particular spin in both essays was physicist Lee Smolin's new book, Time Reborn, in which he criticizes the aspect of timelessness in the mathematical models that physicists use.  Both Gilson and Ribstein based much of their work on transaction cost economics.  I perceived similar issues of timelessness both in what transactional lawyers see themselves doing, and how law professors go about describing it in economic models. 

The piece about Value Creation is entitled What Is It Like to Be a Beetle?:  The Timelessness Problem in Gilson's Value Creation Thesis.  Here is the abstract:

This is a contribution to the 2014 mini-symposium honoring the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Ronald Gilson’s seminal article Value Creation by Business Lawyers. In it, he coined two powerful metaphors: that of lawyers as "transaction cost engineers" and as beetles studied by their entomologist brethren in the legal academy. As a former lawyer-beetle and a current academic-entomologist, I am quite sure that the transaction cost economics he used to explain why business lawyers stay in business missed something important about the subjective and real world experience of being a lawyer-beetle. In this essay, I (a) summarize two different but significantly related critiques of theory, (i) the physicist Lee Smolin’s powerful argument for the unreality and therefore timelessness of algorithmic models of the universe – i.e., why physics as generally practiced is "physics in a box," and (ii) the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s controversial argument for the unreality of modern conceptions of utility, rights, and efficiency, (b) borrow from both critiques in order to understand the difficulties in transposing timeless economic and legal conceptions ("utility" and "rights," respectively) to real transactions that occur in real time, (c) criticize the tendency of the legal profession, in both the academic and practicing arms, to teach and practice a scientific "law in a box," and (d) suggest a vision of what it means for a wise business lawyer not to be so constrained.

The piece for the Ribstein conference is entitled Trust and Law (In a Box):  Do Organizational Forms Make a Difference?  Here is the abstract:

In this contribution to the University of Illinois College of Law’s 2013 Larry Ribstein Memorial Symposium, I assess Professor Ribstein’s approach to both to trust and the “uncorporation.” My thesis is that his disciplinary commitment to a transaction cost economics model resulted in an overstatement of the extent to which business association forms matter in the real world. In contrast to Professor Ribstein’s view that mandatory law (which includes corporate law) “crowds out” trust (implicitly making uncorporations more amenable to trust), I see the orderliness of modern and abstract business structures (of any kind) as distinct from, yet operating at the same time and in the same space as, the usual gamut, for better or worse, of human emotions. Even if, as a matter of economic theory, uncorporations do a better job of corporations in permitting owners to control manager agency costs, the theory leaves out (for otherwise good reasons inherent in doing any kind of rigorous science) virtues like trust and vices like greed, fear, panic, all of which seem just as likely to operate in the uncorporate as the corporate setting.


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