Encyclopedia of Law & Economics - 0305 Law & Economics In Austria


Law & Economics In Austria

Wolgang Weigel

University of Vienna

© Copyright 1997 Wolgang Weigel


1. General Observations  
2. Predominant Paradigms  
3. Professional Structure  
4. Prejudices and Ignorance  
5. Challenges by Legal and Economic Practice  
6. A Necessarily Brief History  
Bibliography on Law & Economics in Austria (0305)  


This note concentrates on the state of "Law and Economics" in Austria after theemergence of the economic analysis of law. The long tradition of research inbringing together legal and economic aspects particularly in the field ofregulation and dating back to the 18th century is also adressed. Moreover, somereasons why modern Law and Economics have encountered a fairly weakreception for almost two decades are suggested. Finally the quite encourangingdevelopment both in teaching and research during the nineties is emphasized.

JEL classification: A12, K00

Keywords: Austria, Law and Economics, Paradigms, Teaching, Research

1. General Observations  

In Austria, the mutual dependence of economics and law has been recognizedlitterally for more than two hundred years. However, from the beginning, publiclaw and, more specifically, regulation - or "Wirtschaftsverwaltungsrecht", to usethe appropriate German term - received much more attention than civil law.Evidence for this assertion is provided by a textbook, entitled "The principlesof police, action and finance", written by one of the most influential counsellorsto the sovereign of the Austrian empire, Joseph von Sonnenfels , which waspublished in three volumes beginning in the year 1765, where the term policerefers to public administration, action to private trade and finance to fiscal issuesof government. Here and in most of the later work treating these issues,however, there was no common denominator in terms of a distinct methodology.On the contrary, one of the particular features of modern law and economics isthat legal issues are approached by means of the tools of microeconomic theory.Taking the latter characteristic as the essential feature of "Law and Economics",as it is understood nowadays, contrary to the general concern about economicissues in legal reasoning, the interest in that field of research in Austria is notvery great.

Its reception in the academic sphere is, however, considerably ahead of thatin the secular world. Among scientists, lawyers appear to be more concernedthan economists. This is not surprising, since it is mainly for lawyers that themethodology involved gives rise to a radical change in the way of approachinglegal problems, whereas economists are traditionally more accustomed toderiving policy conclusions from their analysis, which may very well comprisechanges in prevailing regulations. A typical example is the work on openinghours of shops by the economists Clemenz and Inderst (1989) . Following thesaid tradition, among lawyers, those working in the field of public law(constitutional law, administrative law as well as regulation) are generally moreinterested than those in private law. In the latter, the main attitude is scepticismif not prejudice, as can be seen from quotations e.g. by Mayer-Maly (1991, p.220, note to p. 129) , and Bydlinski (1988, pp. 282 passim) . This conclusion restsupon three sources: First, the examination and classification of existing literature,second, quotations by leading scientists and third, the response to a mail surveyin the course of the preparation for this paper.

The information now to follow will illustrate and explain the views expressedabove.

2. Predominant Paradigms  

One reason for the weak impact of Law and Economics both in the academicsphere and civil practise of law seems to be the predominant role of distinctparadigms in educational training. Legal scholars are basically brought up in thespirit of legal positivism. Even more recent ideas such as that of a value-relatedunderstanding of law Bydlinski (1982) leave hardly any space for the economicapproach to law. Dissenting approaches are rarely considered . Even in appliedresearch conventional juridical craftsmanship is applied; one typical example isthat by the lawyers Aicher and Lessiak (1989) on discount and competition,which does not contain even one single reference to the economic analysis oflaw.

Economists in turn are mainly trained in neoclassical economic theory, as faras microeconomics is concerned, whereas late Keynesian views predominate inmacroeconomics until recently at least (see Frey and Kirchgässner (1994, p.477) ). Nevertheless, the research programs suggested by scholars of modern lawand economics are occasionally adopted. This can be infered from the lists ofpublications submitted to the present author following a call for submission: Inmany of the accompanying letters it is stated that the publications enlisted areunderstood as being related to law and economics, without taking into accountthe methodology underlying the economic approach to law.

3. Professional Structure  

Lawyers play a predominant role in the Austrian economy. They still hold mostof the leading positions in public administration and in private business. Morerecently economists have catched up to some extent, but most of them receivedtheir degrees in business administration, not in economics proper.

However, lawyers receive educational training in basic economics (bothmacro and micro) whereas economists are taught basic private and public law inturn. Moreover, civil servants, who seek achievement to higher posts, must takesupplementary courses in economics as well as distinct fields of law at thefederal academy of administration, irrespective of their university degree.

4. Prejudices and Ignorance  

One reason for the weak reception of the economic approach to law seems to bea general lack of knowledge about the state of the art. More specifically, theentire approach is generally associated with the "Chicago-school", which is heldto be primarily efficiency - orientated, taking the Pareto-efficient allocations ofcompetitive markets as a reference standard. It is generelly agreed that thereforeissues of (social) justice do not receive the attention they deserve in legalreasoning. These conjectures are supported by the fact that the predominantreference which can be found in the literature is made to judge Richard Posner,as e.g. in the writings of the most influential authors, Bydlinsky andMayer-Maly, as quoted in Section one of the present note.

Consequently it is generally ignored that many outstanding scholars of Lawand Economics have taken a much broader view than that of the Chicago-schoolfor a long time. It is disturbing to see that their basic ideas have hardly yetentered univerisity classrooms. Fortunately, there is one exception: The closelyrelated "property rights-public choice approach", as it has been termed by Goldberg (1980, p. 402) is actually being promoted now in the economicdepartments of the universities of Linz, Innsbruck, and Vienna and also in thedepartment of sociology of the University of Graz.. From here, it would only bea short step to adopt L&E more generally.With the exception of the Universityof Vienna, where regular lectures and seminars are held meanwhile, this step hasnot be taken.

Unfortunately, responses to the questionaire mentioned earlier show that thesituation with respect to teaching is even worse in law schools. There, the ideasunderlying the economic analysis of law are taught only occasionally in thecourse of classes held on topics which are traditionally in the domain of L&E,such as corporate law, environmental law and criminal law.

5. Challenges by Legal and Economic Practice  

Contrary to the weak overall interest in modern Law and Economics, theAustrian economy would offer itself as an ideal playground for scholary workin that field. It is still highly regulated, with regulations applying to competition,barriers to entry and administered prices, to name but a few issues. Needless toadd that there is also growing concern about environmental standardsaccompanied by an ever increasing number of legal measures.

More recently predominant policy issues such as privatization of publicutilities and deregulation as well as the harmonization of the Austrian legalframework with that of the European Union create new challenges for botheconomists and lawyers. The problems associated with these newly emergingissues would call for appropriate tools of analysis and advice. Therefore, timemay prepare the ground for a larger perception of the fruitfulness of theeconomic approach to law.

6. A Necessarily Brief History  

In adressing the history of economic thought in the field of modern Law andEconomics, one must be aware that it is both rooted in and therefore closelyrelated to a variety of other fields of research. These are nowadays frequentlysummarized under the label of New Institutional Economics, and they comprisemany very important contributions, e.g. on the evolution of social order and theeconomic theory of democracy. The most prominent authors associated withthese contributions are Hayek and Schumpeter respectively. Unfortunately it isbeyond the scope of this note to take full account of their work. Moreover,although they are Austrians by birth and from origin, these authors - like severalothers - received adequate acknowledgement for their pathbreaking contributionabroad only, after their emigration from Austria. Therefore, their pionieering workshould be accounted to Austria only with reservation.

But even with respect to Law and Economics in a narrow sense, despite itsgenerally weak reception, Austria may be looked at as an important post offorerunners: As far back as 1897, Herrmann published a book on "Theorie derVersicherung" (Theory of Insurance), in which he introduced ideas, which arequite close to those, which a century later became known as the Coase-theorem.Another pioneering work was "Rechte und Verhältnisse vom Standpunkt derVolkswirthschaftslehre" (Rights and Relations from the point of View ofEconomics) by Eugen Böhm-Bawerk in 1881. In this small book, Böhm-Bawerkacknowledges rights and entitlements to be valuable assets.

The title of Victor Mataja«s book "Das Recht des Schadenersatzes vomStandpunkt der Nationalökonomie" (The Law of Damages from an EconomicPerspective), published in 1888, ought to sound familiar to presentday scholars.Finally, the work of K.G.Wurzel deserves attention here. Writing at the time ofWorld War One, Wurzel strongly advocated interdisciplinary reasoning forlawyers, see also Weissel (1991) .

After World War Two, questions of property and wealth were discussed inthe course of both the adoption of "ORDO-liberalism" and a newly emerginggeneral interest in the catholic doctrine on social justice and the distribution ofprivate property, see e.g. Streissler (1973) . These writings can be seen as looselylinked to the subject at hand.

During the eighties, the first writings were published, which explicitelycontained reference to the economic analysis of law. A landmark for Austria,unfortunately with weak impact on the interest in general, however, was the 7thannual conference of the European Association for Law and Economics, held inVienna in 1989, arranged by the author. It was not until the early nineties thoughthat the economic analysis of law was explicitely taught for the first time inclasses in the economics department of Vienna university. Occasionallyinterdisciplinary seminars were held, and in the Technical University of Vienna,a group of scientists, who had assumed Neoinstitutionalism, started a criticaldispute about the relevance of the modern property-rights doctrine.

In Vienna as well as Graz, books by Hafner (1987) , Huber (2nd edition 1995) and Gimpel-Hinteregger (1994) were published, which were basically revisedversions of "Habiltation"-theses and contained reflections on law andeconomics.

A research program on "Dynamic Models of Optimal Law Enforcement" wasestablished at the Institute for Econometrics, Operation Research and SystemsTheory, University of Technology, which is devoted to the application of gametheory and operations research to the economics of crime, more specificallycorruption and illicit drugs.

Also more recently, the first doctoral theses were written explicitelyadressing the approach; Grabenwarter (1994) , Freyer (1994) .

Law and Economics was finally accepted as complemetary course for thestudy of both law and economics in 1994. Approximately 20 to 25 scientists arenow working in this field.

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Other References  

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Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen v. (1881) , 'Rechte und Verhältnisse vom Standpunkte dervolkswirtschaftlichen Güterlehre (Rights and Relationships from the Viewpoint of theEconomic Theory of Commodities) , Innsbruck.

Bydlinski, Franz (1982) , Juristische Methodenlehre und Rechtsbegriff (Legal Methodologyand the Meaning of the Term Law), Vienna-New York, Springer Publishers.

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Frey, Bruno and Kirchgässner, Gebhard (1994) , Demokratische Wirtschaftspolitik [(EconomicPolicy in a Democracy), 2nd Edition, Munich, Vahlen.

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Herrmann, Emanuel (1897) , Theorie der Versicherung (Theory of Insurance), 2nd Ed.,Vienna.

Mataja, Victor (1888) , Das Recht des Schadenersatzes vom Standpunkte derNationalökonomie (The Law of Compensation from the Standpoint of Economics),Leipzig.

Mayer-Maly, Theodor (1991) , Rechtswissenschaft (The Science of Law), 5th ed.,Munich-Vienna, Oldenbourg.

Sonnenfels, Joseph von (1765) , Principien von Polizey, Handlung und Finanz (Theprinciples of police, action and finance), 3 Volumes, 1st printing, Vienna.

Streissler, Erich (1973) , Macht und Freiheit in der Sicht des Liberalismus (Power andLiberty form a Liberal Perspective), Vienna.

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© Copyright 1997 Wolgang Weigel