48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is a nice textbook. If you're looking for a good introduction to the field of law and economics intermediate between Mercuro/Medema's _Economics and the Law_ (low brainstrain) and Thomas Miceli's _Economics of the Law_ (high brainstrain), this one is a good choice.
One of the things I especially like about Cooter and Ulen's approach is that they are careful _not_ to reduce law to economics (or vice versa, for that matter). Their claim is simply that law and economics have a lot to learn from one another. And this claim is hard to argue with, no matter what other criticisms I might make about some parts of the law-and-economics movement.
For example, people who work with the law may tend to think of law as a means (solely) of securing justice, unaware that law also provides a complex structure of what economists would call "incentives" which promote what economists would call "efficiency". On the other hand, economists may tend to take for granted the existence of such institutions as property rights and contracts, and the meaning of such terms as "voluntary." These things are not as simple as they appear (as any first-year law student could tell you, although lots of "pop libertarians" probably couldn't), and legal scholarship has developed a lot of machinery for dealing with them.
So this textbook, after a short opening chapter, devotes two not-overlong and altogether mainstream summary-and-overview chapters to, respectively, microeconomic theory and law. This means that a reader from either discipline can learn the basics of the other before proceeding to the meat of the analysis.
Then the real work starts. Cooter and Ulen do a thorough job of presenting, in a readable and accessible manner, the basics of the economic analysis of the law of property, torts, contracts, legal procedure, crime, and all the other neat stuff on which the law-and-economics movement has based its reputation -- i.e., the application of economic theory to the study of law beyond the traditional bounds of, e.g., antitrust and other areas of law directly concerned with economics.
It's designed to be eminently readable. Judgments like the one I'm about to render are notoriously subjective, but overall, the text strikes me as a good mix of clear expository prose, a well-chosen range of helpful examples, sound theory, and audience-appropriate mathematics (algebra and graphing). More advanced texts -- e.g. the aforementioned Miceli, and _Introduction to Law and Economics by A. Mitchell Polinsky -- are harder to read than this one unless you've got some math background. (Polinsky doesn't actually _use_ all that much math, but I think readers without some mathematical experience will find his book more difficult reading than this one.)
References abound; every chapter closes with at least a handful of them. So the text also doubles as a bibliography and introduction to what is rapidly becoming a vast literature.
If you're introducing yourself to the field, this book is a good investment. If you have a sufficiently strong background in mathematics, you _may_ be able to start with either Miceli or Polinsky (or both) and give this one a pass. But you'll miss a lot of helpful introductory discussion.
Besides, this book has been something of a classic in the field ever since it was first published. If you have any interest in this field at all, you'll probably want to pick up a copy eventually.
(It will probably _not_ help you much in law school, by the way, at least in the beginning. If you're just looking for an introduction to law and economics sufficient to get you started as a law student, I recommend Mercuro/Medema. You can go on to Posner and Landes and Shavell and Calabresi and the rest of them later.)
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2001
There are a number of good introductory works to law and economics. Richard Posner's Economic Analysis of the Law, for example, is a widely used and heavily-cited text. Yet, Cooter and Ulen have produced a text that deserves a top ranking in this growing field.
Law and economics is a school of jurisprudence in which the tools of microeconomic analysis are used to study law. Those lawyers, judges, and legal scholars who practice economic analysis have a deceptively simple task. They translate some legal doctrine into economic terms. They then apply a few basic tools of neoclassical microeconomics, such as cost-benefit analysis, collective action theory, decisionmaking under uncertainty, and risk aversion, to the problem. Finally, they translate the result back into legal terms.
Law and economics radically transformed legal thinking. Traditional forms of legal scholarship were mostly backward-looking. One reasoned from old precedents to decide a present case, seemingly without much concern (at least explicitly) for the effect today's decision would have on future behavior. Yet, law is necessarily forward-looking. To be sure, a major function of our legal system is to resolve present disputes, but law's principal function is to regulate future behavior. The law and economics movement succeeded because it recognized that judges cannot administer justice solely retrospectively. They must also consider what rules their decisions will create to guide the behavior of other actors in the future. The genius of law and economics was giving judges a systematic mechanism for predicting how rules will affect behavior. Cooter and Ulen demonstrate this by applying basic economic principles across a wide array of both common law and statutory areas. They tackles topics in such diverse areas as property, torts, contracts, and criminal law. In effect, they provide an economic analysis of the first year of law school.
Cooter and Ulen recognize that it is important to distinguish between positive and normative uses of economic analysis. At the risk of being too simplistic, positive law and economics asks whether the law is efficient; normative law and economics commands that the law ought to be efficient. The point of positive economic analysis of law is to determine how people are likely to behave under a given legal regime. In trying to make behavioral predictions, positive law and economics does nothing more than to apply modern microeconomic tools to legal rules. The utility of positive economic analysis should be obvious. Economics is generally quite good at predicting how people respond to changes in prices. If we think of legal sanctions as the cost of engaging in certain activities, changing a legal rule is no different than any other change in prices. The former is just as subject to analysis under price theory and game theory as the latter. Imposing a more onerous legal sanction on the use of illegal drugs, for example, is the functional equivalent of charging more for tobacco. Just as people respond to higher prices by consuming less of the good (here tobacco), they should respond to enhanced legal sanctions by engaging in less of the regulated activity (here consuming illegal drugs). Hence, positive economics provides a mechanism for separating the wheat from the chaff-figuring out which facts are the really significant ones, by identifying those facts most relevant to behavior.
It is law and economics' normative claims that arouse the most controversy. In its normative guise, law and economics claims that society should make efficient decisions-put another way, society should make decisions that maximize social wealth. To their credit, Cooter and Ulen do not shy away from tackling tough normative questions. Yet, at the same time, the analysis is always thoughtful and balanced.
One nice touch, which makes the text useful for a wide audience, is that it does not assume familiarity with either economics or law. A 40+ page chapter is devoted to a review of microeconomics, which is followed by a 20 page chapter on the basics of the legal system. Consequently, the book will serve well the interests both of lawyers who need to brush up on the economics and economists interested in law.
Finally, there are extensive and well-balanced lists of additional reading.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2003
In a sense, this book is quite curious. Because law and economics is a discipline in its infancy, a book of this nature has to tread the fine line between serving as a distanced text and engaging in the dialogue of current research. And in both respects, Cooter and Ulen do a magnificent job of doing just that.
Law and economics is a branch of jurisprudence that aims to frame legal questions in terms of economic efficiency. While some maintain that legal questions can purely be reduced to economic ones, Cooter and Ulen take - rightly, in my view - the more conservative stance that economics can describe at least part of the legal question. It turns out, however, that the methodologies presented in this book are useful in reducing most legal problems to ones of economic efficiency.
This is a textbook for beginners. It presupposes virtually no knowledge on economics or law -- a brief synopsis of microeconomics and English common law system is presented at the outset. The rest of the book utilizes economic methodologies in analyzing legal problems of property, contract, torts, common law and criminal law.
However, there is a caveat. As law and economics is a burgeoning and diverse field, many important details are omitted. Most notably, the distinction between different schools of law and economics is saliently missing. This book adopts the "Posnerian" or "Chicago" school of law and economics; that is, analyzing legal questions using the framework of wealth maximization. This scaffold is one of many schools of law and economics, including the "Virginia School" and the "Rochester School."
Taking this into note, however, does not mitigate this book's clarity or exposition. This is a solid although incomplete introduction to law and economics. Recommended.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2001
Originally, I bought this for a class in college and it remains one of the few texts that I kept. I was studying economics and had always imagined that I would go to law school some day so I took this class. The result was I went back sooner and fell in love with concept of looking at law through an economic lens. To this day, I will pull this book down from the shelf to rethink about a question using the tools this book provides.
The best part about this book is that is not overly complex or attempting to over simplify. Rather, its beauty is found in Cooter & Ulen's use of a well-timed example, beautifully simple diagrams, and realizing that this book is only an introduction to a controversial and complex subject matter. If you want to read Judge Posner's treatise I highly recommend it, but if you want to begin to understand why Posner and those like myself argue for this type of analysis-start here.
This book is expensive, but I would buy it again. If you're even remotely interested in this beautiful hybrid of human though, I strongly recommend you buy this. If you have to buy it for a class as I did, I would hold on to it and read it again without an eye toward the exam. I know it will be a good beer resale at the end of the semester, but I think in the long-run you'll be glad you kept it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 1999
I must strongly disagree with my fellow San Franciscan- Cooter and Ulin have written one of the truly great works in the field of legal economics. This book does an excellent job of teaching the main ideas of legal economics without drowning the reader in text and formulae. If additional information is desired the reader is given a number of citations and recommended texts for further study. Readers with experience in both of these technical fields are likely to find this book to be an exciting vindication of their previous studies.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2011
With the 6th edition, the best introduction to law and economics got better. It is easier to teach from and more enjoyable to read. You don't need to know law or economics to read it, but the more you know, the more you will appreciate what you read. The theoretical chapter on contracts is much improved over the muddy treatment in the 5th edition, as is the theoretical chapter on crimes.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 1998
The book is a solid introduction to Law and Economics at the "Microeconomic" level. It surveys the standard topics in Law and Econ., e.g., Property, Torts and Crime. There are, however, a few too many topical sections whose relevance to the text is questionable. While some may enjoy random inclusions that do not have much to do with Law and Econ., I found them tedious. For example, sections on the death penalty and gun control are uninformative and are included, I feel, for completeness' sake. The textbook is not rigorous, so anyone expecting a complex review of the subject will be disappointed. However, it is a good introduction to a burgeoning field of study.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2001
As one who both read this book and studied under Professor Ulen, I found this book to be an excellent introduction to the field. No, this is not a huge treatise on the subject, nor is it meant to be. It is designed to reach people familiar with either law or economics and broaden their understanding of the other field. In this, it succeeds quite well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 1999
Cooter and Ulen have completed the second edition of an important text in law and economics. The style is reader friendly and not heavily technical: a good attribute for an introductory text. The book is original in its presentation of the subject matter and rich with valuable intuitions for both educated economists and lawyers interested in the field.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Used this book in my final course for my BS in Economics, and it confirmed my decision to go on to law school after graduation. This book was extremely informative, and in my first semester of law school, I had a leg up, having already covered many of the cases and basic principles.