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Teaching Public Choice and the Law in Fall 2008 Semester:

Maxwell Stearns and I have nearly completed a draft of our new textbook "Public Choice Concepts and Applications in Law." We plan to have the book published and ready for classroom adoption for the Fall 2009 semester. In the meantime, we are are looking for professors interested in teaching all or some of the manuscript during the Fall 2008 semester. The book is suitable not only for law professors but for teachers of economics, political science, and public policy courses as well. The book is designed to be taught as either a follow-on to a traditional law and economics course or as a substitute for a traditional law and economics course.

Here's the announcement that we are sending out to interested parties:

Dear Colleagues:

We are currently writing a coursebook entitled Public Choice Concepts and Applications in Law, which is presently scheduled for publication in the fall 2009 with West Publishing. The book is designed for classroom instruction either as a complete course in public choice and the law or as a complement to, or substitute for, a traditional course in law and economics.

Because we have one full year prior to submission to the publisher (the manuscript is due in late March 2009), we are writing now to see if you might be interested in a pre-publication adoption of the present manuscript, either to teach in the fall 2008 or spring 2009 term (essentially either term in the upcoming academic year). We are both currently teaching the materials with great success at George Mason University School of Law and University of Maryland School of Law. Dean Saul Levmore has also just completed a course using these materials at University of Chicago School of Law. Each of us has thoroughly enjoyed teaching with these materials and is enthusiastic about the book and the value of using it in the classroom.

Given that this will be the only book of its type in the market, we are very interested finding professors willing to teach with these materials prior to publication and to provide us with valuable feedback on such matters as scope, organization, and presentation. Given your prior contributions to and interest in this field, we hope that you might be among those willing to undertake this project.

The book project presently has three parts. Part I of the book contains four chapters, which together introduce the basic concepts of public choice theory, including a general introduction to economic reasoning (with an appendix on elementary price theory); interest-group theory and rent-seeking; social choice theory; and elementary game theory. Each chapter includes clear presentations of the underlying concepts and a series of discussion points and case applications of covered concepts. Part II then applies these combined tools to analyze collective decision-making in four institutional settings: the legislature, the judiciary, the executive branch, and constitutions and constitutional design. Each chapter analyzes the incentives of decision-makers within each institutional setting and the implications of public choice and social choice for decision-making within each of these contexts. As in Part I, each chapter in this part provides several applications, including primary legal materials, that encourage students to apply the insights of public choice theory to concrete legal settings. Part III applies the frameworks developed in parts I and II to a broad range of specific substantive areas of law. These include such areas as the commerce clause (affirmative and dormant), standing, proposals for constitutional reform, environmental law and policy, methods of constitutional interpretation, bankruptcy and corporate law, and corruption and the rule of law. Part III is designed to allow professors to select from a menu of different topical areas and thus to teach to their particular areas of interest. While this aspect of the book is still in development, we are contemplating having Part III take the form of a web interface through which professors can download particular chapters to supplement the bound materials, which would then include parts I and II. At the current time we have completed drafts of Parts I and II of the book and we can send these parts to you for your review. We also have a list of the readings that will provide the basis for the chapters in Part III and a prototype chapter on the commerce clause.

We hope that you will consider requesting that your law school allow you to teach a course on "Public Choice and the Law" this coming academic year and that you will eventually make such a course a permanent part of your curriculum. Even if you choose not to teach this course at this time, we still encourage your review of the materials and any comments that you are able to provide. Because the book is broad in scope, we would also appreciate your willingness to review specific chapters of interest to you. Most importantly, we would also be greatly appreciative if you could suggest other professors who might be interested in such a potential pre-adoption, either at your own institution or elsewhere. You may also feel free to forward this letter to such colleagues. If you are interested in reviewing the chapters that we have at the current time, please contact Maxwell Stearns at mstearns [at] law [dot]umaryland [dot] edu or Todd Zywicki at tzywick2 [at] gmu [dot] edu.

Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Would love to, but I'm already booked up for next year, and my Law &Econ course will probably be in the more traditional style. Perhaps the following year.
3.12.2008 1:15pm
Brian Mac:
Question: can an author reasonably use "public choice theory" to account for a perverse regulatory outcome, without having undertaken a rigorous (economic) study of the incentives at work?
3.12.2008 1:28pm
Free Trader:
Is it true that Public Choice Theory is ideologically skewed in a libertarian direction?
3.12.2008 1:57pm
Brian Mac:
Free Trader: I think below is a fair answer to your question. I'd link to the whole article, but I'm unsure how to (although it's the second hit if you google "public choice theory").

"Because of its skepticism about the supposedly benign nature of government, public choice is sometimes viewed as a conservative or libertarian branch of economics, as opposed to more "liberal" (that is, interventionist) wings such as Keynesian economics. This is partly correct. The emergence of public choice economics reflects dissatisfaction with the implicit assumption, held by Keynesians, among others, that government effectively corrects market failures."
3.12.2008 2:21pm
humanliberty (mail) (www):
If assuming that actors in the market don't suddenly become all-knowing saints will operating in the political arena means that it is skewed in a libertarian direction, sure.

Political economics, the politically correct public choice approach using the futile standard type economic models is politically neutral in academia, which is not saying much given the current center of academic politics.
3.13.2008 4:42am