Law and Economics: The Legacy of Guido Calabresi

By Marciano, Alain; Ramello, Giovanni B. | Law and Contemporary Problems, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Law and Economics: The Legacy of Guido Calabresi


Marciano, Alain, Ramello, Giovanni B., Law and Contemporary Problems


There is no doubt that what is generally known as law and economics is now a well-established scientific approach, settled in our intellectual landscape. Its importance is today not only theoretical but also--and quite importantly--practical. The law-and-economics perspective is so relevant in dealing with problems arising from everyday-life interactions of human beings embedded in a given legal setting that it now qualifies as a sort of programmatic approach for law practitioners and scholars. Indeed, the use of economics--economic reasoning and economic modeling--as a tool to tackle otherwise difficult and complex legal problems is now frequent, to say the least. Moreover, an increasing number of judges and legal scholars have taken economics courses and are influenced by the material, certainly in the United States and now more than ever in Europe. Economics did not always have such a role in law.

This change is the result of a movement that began before World War II, gained structure in the 1950s, took further shape in the 1960s, and established itself in the 1970s, essentially under the influence of economists and legal scholars from the so-called Chicago school, particularly. Ronald Coase (1) and Richard Posner (2) (an economist and a legal scholar, respectively). They and others helped to create a field of studies at the intersection of economics and the law. Henry Manne played also a crucial role in the movement, although he is not a Chicagoan. (3)

The other non-Chicagoan founding father of the law-and-economics discipline is Guido Calabresi. (4) Indeed, one cannot--and probably nobody would--consider the current intense interplay between law and economics without recognizing the role played by the "outsider" Guido Calabresi, whose work "enabled Yale to carve out its own niche in the field," after "the 'boom' period of law and economics, the late 1960s and early 1970s, [when] Chicago dominated."' Calabresi really initiated an original approach: of course different from what most legal scholars did, but also from what economists--Coase, for instance, or Aaron Director--started to do. (6) With his unique approach, Calabresi somehow simultaneously anticipated and set himself apart from what Posner did in the early 1970s at Chicago. To put it differently, Calabresi helped popularize the use of economics to study and analyze legal problems, but did so in his own specific way. (7)

Calabresi's publishing career started with the remarkable article Some

Thoughts on Risk Distribution and the Law of Torts (Some Thoughts) (8)--written in the 50s when Calabresi was still a student, and published in 1961--in which he provided many seeds that in the subsequent five decades have germinated, transforming a fragile bud of an idea into a mature and robust discipline. This probably explains why, more than fifty years later, the article is still worth reading--for its legal dimension, for how it mixes a legal and an economic reasoning, and also for broader, let us say, ethical and philosophical reasons. Yet Some Thoughts is remarkable not just because it is foundational for law and economics, but also because it is foundational for Calabresi. Indeed, a lot of Calabresi's ideas about law, economics, justice, liability, and so forth, can be traced back to this original work. But, returning to the the article's greater influence, Some Thoughts had a huge impact on lawyers and economists, both inside the United States and outside it--especially in Europe. All this influence is the subject of this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems: The authors in this issue trace the impact and the legacy of Calabresi's 1961 article and, more broadly, of Calabresi himself, of his specific way of applying economics to legal problem solving. The goal of the authors in this issue is to analyze the origins and influence of Calabresi's works, their ideological, technical, and methodological aspects, as well as the connections, similarities, and differences between Calabresis's works and the other major works in law and economics or economic analyses of the law. …

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