Thursday, May 18, 2023

Tani on Calabresi and the "Economic Style"

Karen Tani just completed a fascinating four-part series at Legal History Blog on Guido Calabresi's particular form of law and economics scholarship and its influence on legal thinking. Though Tani doesn't directly deal with environmental issues (nor did Calabresi give them much attention), the series raises important questions that have relevance to understanding the history of environmental regulation and environmental law scholarship in recent decades. In particular the series focuses on the question of to what extent economic thinking in Calabresi's writings claimed exclusivity or made room for other ways of thinking about legal problems. 

Calabresi himself often insisted (as in the subtitle "One View of the Cathedral") that economics was just one factor to be considered in legal analysis, and his classic works (such as The Cost of Accidents and the Cathedral article) also at least paid lip service to this idea, but I have always thought that the depth of Calabresi's economic analysis, juxtaposed with the cursory treatment he usually gave to distributive considerations, broadcast the message that efficiency was the key factor to be considered.

This way of thinking has obviously had great effects on environmental law, starting from the way environmental issues are typically presented to law students - as negative externalities that need to be internalized or collective-action problems that need the aid of law to overcome, rather than, say, as issues of distributive justice or problems of environmental ethics.

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