Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Mark Graber

I am honored to announce the publication of PUBLIC CHOICE CONCEPTS AND APPLICATIONS IN LAW by my colleague Maxwell Stearns and fellow Dartmouth alum Todd Zywicki. This is the wonderfully rare text that persons in the field ought to consider using when they teach and the rest of us ought to very seriously consider owning (and reading!). PUBLIC CHOICE has two virtues. The first is accessibility. Public choice concepts can be difficult for the uninitiated, particularly the uninitiated in law schools who are not exposed to economic perspectives on a regular basis. Stearns and Zywicki recognize that basics must be covered, covered slowly and covered clearly. The result is an excellent introduction for law students (and professors) to Arrow’s theorem, prisoners’ dilemmas of varying complexity, such Nash equilibrium games (we all say the movie) as Battle of the Sexes and Chicken, and median voter theory. For those of us who sometimes get lost in the public choice jargon, this is the authoritative and Dummies Guide reference. The text then highlights the remarkable number of arenas in which public choice scholars have sought to inform legal analysis. The text covers theories of judicial decision making, problems of regulation, the proper status of precedent, theories of democracy, questions about the common law and, unsurprisingly for those who know Professor Stearns, standing. More surprisingly, the text includes such critics of public choice theory as Ian Shapiro and Donald Green. PUBLIC CHOICE CONCEPTS is most assuredly not either a brief for conservatism or intellectual hegemony. Rather, Stearns and Zywicki seek to provide readers only with a set of tools that, combined with other tools, may make the legal universe more manageable for human beings.

PUBLIC CHOICE CONCEPTS is particularly welcomed for its comprehensive view of the legal universe. The law school curriculum parcels out different subject matters to different courses and professors. Students learn torts from a professor with, say, an historical bent, civil procedure from a critical feminist theorist, and contracts from a doctrinalist. We teach constitutional law one clause at a time. The result is that few students by graduation can make connections between different cases. They recognize trees, but have no idea of the forest. Akhil Amar in constitutional law is working hard to break down some of these conceptual barriers. Stearns and Zywicki are engaged in the same endeavor. The result is a fabulous guide to public choice thinking and scholarship that will inspire both students and professors to connect many dots in the legal world.


Kudos to Mark for this posting. I cannot forbear from mentioning, however, the unhappy news that Amazon is charging $70 (!) for the paperback (!), which signals, to me at least, that the intended audience is libraries and, more to the point, law students who will be forced to buy the book. Given that I suspect the book is as good as Mark says it is, this is a real shame, for the publisher surely cannot expect any "ordinary reader" to buy the book.

Yikes. $70? Oh well; cancel that plan.

used from $53.14!


used from $53.14!

Somehow, I think I'll have lost interest in ten years. :-)

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