Encyclopedia of Law & Economics - Foreword

Richard A. Posner

Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Senior Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School

© Copyright 1999 Richard A. Posner

The law and economics movement was for a long time regarded as an American movement. This was never completely correct. Its origins, certainly, are international. British economists, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham to begin with, and later A.C. Pigou and Ronald Coase (among others), played a founding role, as did Max Weber - himself both a lawyer and an economist. Friedrich Hayek and Bruno Leoni are other examples of scholars from outside the Anglo-American sphere whose thought has had an influence on the movement. And there are others. Today, at any rate, it is plain that the movement is international. There are law and economics associations in Europe and Latin America as well as in North America, law and economics scholarship is being produced in every major country and in many minor ones, and several of the leading journals are published outside the United States. Improvements in transportation and communications, and the rapid diffusion of English as the international language of scholarship, has fostered the internationalisation of law and economics. And there is growing recognition that comparative studies are an indispensable tool for gaining a better understanding of the economic nature and consequences of law. It is, for example, most unlikely that we will ever gain an adequate understanding of the efficiency of the Anglo-American 'adversarial' system of legal procedure without comparing it to the 'inquisitorial' system that prevails in Continental Europe; or understand the role of property rights in economic growth without studying the experience of the Central and European nations that have recently emerged from Communism.

Along with the internationalisation of the field has come an extraordinary growth in breadth of coverage and in specialisation of focus. Few areas of legal scholarship remain untouched by economics. Apart from the obvious examples - areas such as taxation and antitrust and securities regulation and (other) regulated industries and commercial law, all areas where the law is explicitly engaged in regulating economic activity - recent decades have seen a broadening of interest to include tort, contract, family, intellectual property, constitutional, criminal, admiralty, labour, arbitration, and antidiscrimination law, among others. But not only have more and more areas of law been brought under the lens of economics; more and more of the increasingly technical tools of economics - itself a field undergoing rapid growth and increased specialisation - have been brought to bear on the law, along with the latest in game theory. An immense and difficult body of monographic and journal scholarship is the result.

When a field becomes large, diverse and technical, it cries out for encyclopedic coverage. Thirty years ago one person, in one book, could map most of the terrain of law and economics. That is no longer possible. It has become infeasible for any single individual to keep fully abreast of the field of law and economics. He or she cannot be fully expert in every area of the field. And yet from time to time the scholar will find it necessary to cross the boundary that demarcates his own area of primary interest. For such a person, the opportunity of getting a quick overview of another part of the field by reading an encyclopedia article is welcome and even essential. It is even more welcome to those scholars, consultants, and practitioners who do not consider themselves 'law and economics' people, but whose work intersects the law and economics field. Law and economics has had interesting things to say about virtually every area of law, and this makes it of potential relevance to anyone working in one of those areas, who might be a practising lawyer, an economic consultant, a sociologist, psychologist, historian, or philosopher. For these 'outsiders', facing a research or practical task to which law and economics may be relevant, the opportunity to consult an encyclopedia article as the initial port of entry into the law and economics field is of immense potential value - as it is to students, and to scholars who are beginning to work in law and economics and want a broader view of the field before they decide where to specialise within it.

The Encyclopedia of Law and Economics endeavours, I think very successfully, to provide the kind of encyclopedic coverage - comprehensive and sophisticated but lucid, international without being esoteric, uniform without being monochrome, collective but individual - that the field of law and economics requires. It will help to make the field accessible to outsiders and to promote mutual intelligibility among insiders. It provides a meeting place for and an overview of a vast activity of scholarship, and will thus help to unify and advance the field. It is a milestone in an advancing field.