Law’s Primacy in L&E

Cite this Article
Keith Sharfman, Law’s Primacy in L&E, Truth on the Market (August 04, 2006),

Kudos to Josh for pointing us to Judge Posner’s fascinating and on the whole quite favorable review of Steven Shavell’s Foundations of Economic Analysis of Law.

Posner’s most interesting statement in the essay may well be:

“It is curious but true that, although economics is intellectually more sophisticated than law and though there is—recognition of this point is close to the heart of economic analysis of law—a considerable isomorphism between law and economics, no one, however bright, who is not a lawyer can get the law quite right. Law is like a language that you have to be a native speaker of to speak correctly.”

This ties in to our discussion a few months ago about whether law has primacy in the “law and economics” discipline. Posner captures here very well what I was then trying to say about economists who lack legal training. You can be the greatest economist in the world, but you won’t be able to describe the law with complete depth and precision if you never went to law school.

For this reason, I remain convinced that the best place to study and do research in law and economics is at a law school and not in an economics department. If Shavell had stayed in an economics department and never come to HLS, I doubt that it would have been possible for him to make the enormous contribution to L&E that he has made.