Thursday, June 3, 2010

general notes on law and economics

Everything developed here has been said before. It was written because I am mapping out some ideas for something. It may or may not be updated in the future. (How's that for vague?)

Law and economics...

sees secure property rights as the fundamental engine of growth and prosperity
critiques: Morton Horwitz, Naomi Lamoreaux paper on whether secure property rights are necessary for growth
sees contract law as primarily about the optimal outcomes of exchange of secure property rights
critiques: Robert Steinfeld, Christopher Tomlins, Duncan Kennedy
has an underlying extreme libertarian view of society where third party (government) action distorts incentives and thus optimal performance
critiques: ANY history of government involvement in the economy such as Polanyi

Points of intersection of the above critiques:

Marxist or far-left social democrat: government plays big important roles in shaping economic growth -- and I don't mean welfare, I mean actual subsidization and coercion in the name of economic growth

The assumption that property and contract are not absolute and never will be -- they are socially defined institutions. That is, what defines what your property is, and the terms under which you exchange it (through contract) is crucially dependent on the political economic landscape: who controls the power. Through what channels.

What economics (heterodox, Marxist or otherwise) can share in terms of these intersections

David Kotz-style work on Marxism and institutions, Bowles' labor discipline model, others? I may be missing some things from development and heterodox macro (though I would argue most of it is still in the equity vs. efficiency framework, which I don't like).


  1. Mwangi uses a lot of material in his syllabi that might be relevant. I recall some material on the imposition of Western-type of private property rights on previously communal lands in Africa (Kenya specifically, I believe?) and the negative consequences of this act for economic development.
    I would also look at Hindess and Hirst's "Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production" - I think there is discussion of the role of politics/law etc. for different social formations (in some sense, also Resnick and Wolff's conditions of existence, and the role of the cultural and political aspects for the economy).
    Finally, the environmental literature has some relevance. Ostrom or Boyce, for some initial thoughts - especially with regard to communal property rights and the role of property rights.

  2. To nit-pick; I don't think all property is crucially dependent on the political economic landscape. Ownership of consumables can be expressed through consumption. That is even if all institutional norms point to you owning the chicken in your backyard, once I kill and eat said chicken for the bio-chemical process of respiration it is now my chicken.
    Of course it may be illegal for me to kill and eat your chicken, but have I not made that chicken my property by transforming it into poo?
    I guess my point (albeit a vague and insignificant one) is that property and the political economic landscape are not mutually inclusive 100% of the time. (I am sure if I actually thought about this instead of writing about chickens and poo I could come up with a much better example)

  3. I guess the problem is, the chickens are only a class-in-themselves and have not transformed into a class-for-themselves.