On Ronald Coase

the (proclaimed by others) progenitor of the law and economics movement.


The appeal of the Coase theorem, and to lesser extent the “Theory of the Firm,” to legal scholars is somewhat puzzling. While many law professors resisted the impulse to explain the world in terms of implicit contracts and around alleged costs (the even more speculative reliance on alternative uses of factors of production has been, to my knowledge, ignored), more subscribed. This is odd. One might have thought that lawyers would viscerally sense the importance of history, of power, of institutional arrangements — of lots of things besides contract, implicit or not, to understanding social privilege. And surely lawyers should emphasize the difficult and uncertain and hence very partial nature of contracts, which they are taught in their first year of law school? It is something of a mystery, but I think Coase’s texts suggested a very appealing vision of social order, in which property entitlements, civil institutions, marketplace action, and law itself make sense in terms of one another, and where the comfortable individual retains his sense of self-worth. Under the spell of such a vision, law could allay its ancient anxiety of being groundless, illegitimate, faithless. This is not the place to develop such speculations about the spiritual history of my profession. For now, it is worth commemorating a marvelous mind if an accidental poet, and also remembering that there are reasons Plato cautions against poetry.

Plato was wrong about that, too, but that’s not the point.

h/t Prof. Moin Yahya, University of Alberta Faculty of Law Blog, who put it this way “All you need to know about the late Ronald Coase”.


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