The economic analysis of law has gone through a remarkable change in the past decade and a half. The founding articles of the discipline – such classic pieces as Ronald Coase's “The problem of social cost” (1960), Richard Posner's “A theory of negligence” (1972) and Guido Calabresi and Douglas Malamed's “Property rules, liability rules, and inalienability: One view of the cathedral” (1972) – offered economic analyses of familiar aspects of the common law, seeking to explain, in particular, fundamental features of the law of tort in terms of such economic ideas as transaction costs (Coase), Kaldor-Hicks efficiency (Posner), or minimizing the sum of the accident costs and avoidance costs (Calabresi and Malamed). In each case, they argued that the law of torts should be understood as a set of liability rules selected for their incentive effects, rather than as a set of substantive rights and remedies for their violation. These authors claimed to be able to explain most of the features of tort law and, where features were found that did not fit with their preferred explanations, recommended modification. Although they disagreed on important questions, each of the pieces seems to work a manageable structure into what strikes first-year law students as an otherwise random morass of common-law judgments. Generations of legal academics were introduced to these works, and drawn into their way of looking at things. As a student studying first-year torts with Calabresi at Yale, I had the sense that I was in the presence of greatness.
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