- Paperback: 361 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised edition (March 25, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674808215
- ISBN-13: 978-0674808218
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Simple Rules for a Complex World Revised Edition
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A book called 'The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America' by attorney Philip Howard has captured the attention of Washington's policy community with its maddening accounts of overzealous regulation and complex litigation. But Mr. Howard's appeal for enforcing rules with a dose of common sense never sets forth a framework for bringing about legal simplification. That's why Richard Epstein's new book...is such a suitable companion to Mr. Howard's battle cry. Mr. Epstein...believes that the traditional common law is actually more attuned to the modern world...He argues that the more complex the world, the less bureaucrats and lawmakers can know about how everything interacts, and the more perverse and inefficient the law will become...Mr. Epstein's relentlessly logical arguments tell us why we should return to the tried-and-true rules of the common law. Like manners, the common law has proven useful and long lasting precisely because it is so well-suited to a world of strangers. (John H. Fund Wall Street Journal)
Richard A. Epstein, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, has a record of proposing radical and extreme alterations in key areas of law--alterations that perhaps initially could be dismissed as so far from the center of legal thinking as to be of only theoretical interest but then turn out to have much more political life in them than one could have thought possible...Mr. Epstein has to be taken seriously, and not only because of the power of his reasoning and his authoritative command of the common law and political philosophy...The reasoning is strong, the knowledge of specific areas of policies is deep, and behind them stands his basic commitment to a more productive and efficient society...It is bracing to undergo a cold bath in the pure doctrine of the simple rules, and in many areas they will give us some practical guidance. (Nathan Glazer New York Times Book Review)
Simple Rules for a Complex World is a clear, consistent, libertarian economic approach to the law that should keep you interested from start to finish. (Charles W. Chesbro Trial)
This book is a tour de force of legal history and analysis. It would have been timeless in any event, but the current Congress' agenda makes it timely as well. Property rights, product and professional liability, a flat tax and environmental protection are now front and center; labor law reform and comparable worth may soon crowd their way onto the agenda as well. Long-range vision and wisdom are too seldom combined with topical analysis, but Simple Rules for a Complex World has this invaluable quality...What Mr. Epstein has accomplished, then, is not the fabrication of a framework but the distillation of one. He has articulated and rationalized basic principles of law in a creative way that shows these principles to have both historical and theoretical primacy. At a time when much legal scholarship is devoted to the deconstruction of the root of our legal order, Mr. Epstein has written a book of reconstruction. (Roger Clegg Washington Times)
A persuasive argument for the American legal system's return to the common-sense rules of common law, by a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. (Chicago Tribune)
About the Author
Richard A. Epstein is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Law and Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
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In order to elaborate this thesis, he spells out just what he means by "simple," proposes a handful of simple rules himself in various areas of law (property, contracts, torts), and shows how they play out in action (in, e.g., labor contracting, employment discrimination, and products liability). In each case he argues, with much success, that it just wouldn't be efficient to try to improve on the results provided by the "simple" rules.
I especially recommend this book, and Epstein's work generally, to law students. Epstein's knowledge of the law is thorough and deep; One-Ls will find it useful to keep it handy for the whole year.
So why only four stars? Partly because I think cost-benefit analysis is neither an adequate defense of liberty against the regulatory State nor an adequate foundation for law; and partly because Epstein's reliance on such analysis leads him toward (though he stops short of actually arriving at) positions I regard as non- or anti-libertarian.
This review isn't the place to critique consequentialism; for a more or less standard and (I think) decisive critique, the reader is referred to W.D. Ross's _Foundations of Ethics_, which, after sixty-odd years, is still one of the most judicious works on ethics ever written. Suffice it to say that I think we can increase efficiency by pursuing justice, but not vice versa; consequentialism and its subspecies utilitarianism seem to me to be not so much ways of answering moral questions as of never raising them. The "maximization" of happiness is one ground of moral obligation, but not the only one. (And in general, I simply fail to understand recent libertarian interest in an ethical school founded by a man who regarded natural rights as "nonsense" and imprescriptible natural rights as "nonsense upon stilts.")
More serious, from a libertarian point of view, is that Epstein comes within inches of allowing a positive role for antitrust law. Now, mind you, he doesn't _quite_ do so. Indeed he calls for the repeal of the Sherman Act and related legislation, and he opposes the use of government power to distinguish between "corporate combinations that increase market competition" (p. 125) from those that do otherwise. (Note that his understanding of "competition" is thoroughly Chicago-school, a point for which Austrian theorists have quite properly taken him to task.)
Yet his only ground for this latter opposition is merely that government agencies can't _tell_ which are which. Some corporate mergers, he says, may actually increase efficiency. Well, what about those that don't? Is he opposed in principle to such "inefficient" mergers? Would it be okay if the government stepped in to kill a merger that _was_ clearly "inefficient" by Epstein's standards? Or does he think there would be something morally wrong with outlawing certain uses of people's justly acquired property merely because somebody can think of a more "efficient" use?
Unfortunately Epstein's consequentialist approach prevents him from giving the standard libertarian answer. It seems that, for him, the rights of property and trade are dependent not merely on their promotion of "happiness" but, more specifically, on their service to the aggregate good -- where, most significantly, this "good" is apparently defined quite independently of justice.
So I have to knock off one star for inadequate moral foundations. But don't let that stop you from reading the book: Epstein's cost-benefit approach is solid as far as it goes. It just doesn't go far enough.