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New book emphasizes the ties between social economics and law

LawSE Over the last half-century, the economic approach to law (or “law and economics”) has become the most successful instance of “economic imperialism,” the extension of the neoclassical economic paradigm to other fields of study. Given the shortcomings of that paradigm, however, law-and-economics misses much of the complexity of human choice and the ethical nature of the law that cannot be captured in terms of utility and efficiency alone. Social economics, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of ethical values to economic theory, practice, and policy, but to date it has engaged very little with the law. Perhaps this is due to an antipathy to the economic imperialism of mainstream law-and-economics. After all, social economists tend to be methodological pluralists that respect the contributions and insights of other disciplines. But we do not have to “co-opt” the law in order to apply social economics thinking to problems involving the law or to incorporate legal aspects of the economy and society into our work. By its very nature, law is a social enterprise concerned with values such as justice, dignity, and equality, as well as efficiency—which is how social economists conceive of the economy itself. The economy and the law work together within a society to influence economic behavior and outcomes, and social economists need to acknowledge this interrelationship if we hope to understand the broader nature of the social economy we study.

In 1993, Steven Medema published his classic article “Is There Life beyond Efficiency? Elements of a Social Law and Economics” in the Review of Social Economy, in which he laid out various ways in which social economics could contribute to the economic analysis of law. In the 20 years since his article appeared, however, few have picked up his baton, much less run with it. Law and Social Economics: Essays in Ethical Values for Theory, Practice, and Policy is an attempt to rectify this situation and renew social economists’ engagement with the law. Drawn from papers presented at meetings of the Association for Social Economics (at the Allied Social Science Association meetings) and the Law and Society Association, the essays contained in this volume explore several areas in which social economics and law can inform and enrich each other. Divided into theory and applications, the ten chapters in this volume, written by an international assortment of scholars from economics, philosophy, and law, employ a wide variety of approaches and methods to show how a more ethically nuanced approach to economics and the law can illuminate both and open up new avenues for studying social-economic behavior, policy, and outcomes in all their ethical and legal complexity.

On behalf on the contributors, I hope this volume inspires social economists to engage with the law in their work, introduces legal scholars to the unique advantages social economics can provide, and leads to greater cooperation between the two in the future.

This post was adapted from editor Mark D. White's introduction to Law and Social Economics. For more information on this title, see its page at Palgrave Macmillan.


Me jan 2015Mark D. White is Chair and Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in philosophy, law, and economics. He is the author of four books and over 50 journal articles and book chapters, and edited or co-edited over a dozen volumes. He is the series editor of “Perspectives from Social Economics” for Palgrave Macmillan and “On Ethics and Economics” for Rowman & Littlefield International, and he served as president of the Association for Social Economics in 2014. He can be found on Twitter as @profmdwhite.


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