The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law

By Ward Farnsworth | Go to book overview

13 Chicken

In the past few chapters we have been investigating patterns where everyone gains by cooperating but finds this hard to achieve without some help from the law. Here is another one—another game, as these situations are called. Its name is chicken, and it is familiar from, among other places, the old movie Rebel without a Cause. In the most time-honored version, two teenagers drive straight toward each other at high speed, with various results then possible. One of them can swerve, neither of them can swerve, or both of them can swerve. If one swerves, he is deemed a chicken and is humiliated; the one who didn’t swerve revels in his victory. If neither of them swerves, they both may be killed in a head-on collision. If they both swerve, then nobody dies or gets humiliated (at least compared to the other), but then nobody has the fun of winning, either.

People still are killed every year playing the automotive version of chicken, but those unfortunates aren’t our main interest here; once the legal system has declared such contests illegal, which it has, there may not be much more it can do. Our real interest is in finding other situations in life that amount to games of chicken and asking what the law has to do with them. One wants to understand how to do well at games of chicken when they can’t be avoided; but one wants to know even more how to solve or avoid them altogether, since their destructive potential is large and obvious. Some legal examples of such solutions are plain enough. The triangular yield sign familiar from the side of the road is a simple example. Without it, every attempt by one car to merge into traffic has the potential to become a game of chicken. If you start driving heedlessly into the lane of traffic you want to join, maybe the person you are cutting off will stop for you. Or maybe he will keep going, figuring that you are sure to back down. Maybe you both will make accommodating gestures to each other and come to an annoying pause; or perhaps you will both charge ahead and be killed. It’s hard to say—until there’s a yield sign, at which point the problem mostly goes away.

We should look a little more closely at the structure of chicken. This business of yielding to oncoming traffic actually is a little different from the version played by headstrong teenagers, and in some respects it is a

-126-

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The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part I - Incentives 1
  • 1 - Ex Ante and Ex Post 3
  • 2 - The Idea of Efficiency 13
  • 3 - Thinking at the Margin 24
  • 4 - The Single Owner 37
  • 5 - The Least Cost Avoider 47
  • 6 - Administrative Cost 57
  • 7 - Rents 66
  • 8 - The Coase Theorem 75
  • Part II - Trust, Cooperation, and Other Problems for Multiple Players 85
  • 9 - Agency with Eric Posner 87
  • 10 - The Prisoner's Dilemma 100
  • 11 - Public Goods 109
  • 12 - The Stag Hunt 117
  • 13 - Chicken 126
  • 14 - Cascades 136
  • 15 - Voting Paradoxes 144
  • 16 - Suppressed Markets with Saul Levmore 152
  • Part III - Jurisprudence 161
  • 17 - Rules and Standards 163
  • 18 - Slippery Slopes with Eugene Volokh 172
  • 19 - Acoustic Separation 182
  • 20 - Property Rules and Liability Rules 188
  • 21 - Baselines 198
  • Part IV - Psychology 207
  • 22 - Willingness to Pay and Willingness to Accept- The Endowment Effect and Kindred Ideas 209
  • 23 - Hindsight Bias 218
  • 24 - Framing Effects 224
  • 25 - Anchoring 230
  • 26 - Self-Serving Bias, with a Note on Attribution Error 237
  • Part V - Problems of Proof 247
  • 27 - Acoustic Separation 249
  • 28 - Standards of Proof 257
  • 29 - The Product Rule 273
  • 30 - The Base Rate 281
  • 31 - Value and Markets 294
  • Notes 305
  • Author Index 329
  • Subject Index 335
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