Monday, November 15, 2010

Richard Posner on the receipt of the Ronald H. Coase Medal: "Uncertainty, the Economic Crisis, and the Future of Law and Economics"

The board of the American Law and Economics Association decided 2 years ago to establish the Ronald H. Coase medal to be awarded bi-annually in recognition of major contributions to the field of law and economics. The American Law and Economics Review will publish each medal recipient’s lecture. The first medal recipient is Richard A. Posner, to whom the medal was presented by Lucian Bebchuk at the May 2010 meeting of the Association in Princeton, NJ.

Presentation by Lucian Bebchuk, Chairman, ALEA Committee to Select the Recipient of The 2010 Ronald H. Coase Medal.

I had the honor of serving as chair of the committee appointed to select the first recipient of the Coase medal. The other members of the committee were Orley Ashenfelter, the current President, former President Shelly White, President-elect Louis Kaplow, and Dean Robert Rasmussen. Our committee unanimously selected Judge Richard Posner to be the first recipient of the Coase medal. We are here today to celebrate the contributions for which this medal is awarded.

According to the official citation, the medal is awarded to Judge Posner for “pioneering work that demonstrated the value of applying economic analysis to a very wide spectrum of legal questions and paved the way for much subsequent work in law and economics.”

Let me elaborate a bit on this official citation. Prior to Judge Posner’s pioneering contributions, the use of economic tools had to a large extent been confined to several legal areas, such as antitrust, tax, and torts. Then came Judge Posner’s work. In his classic book, Economic Analysis of Law, the first edition of which was published in 1973, and in a large body of accompanying articles, Judge Posner demonstrated that economic tools can be deployed effectively in a very broad range of legal areas. Many of us subsequently traveled on the trails that he blazed.

To give a personal example, I count myself as one of those deeply influenced by Judge Posner’s work and example. When I came to do my LLM at Harvard three decades ago, I knew I wanted to combine economics and law but I thought that this was primarily possible in tax and antitrust and focused on these courses in my first semester. During my first year, however, I read and was fascinated by Judge Posner’s Economic Analysis of Law. It made me realize how broadly and fruitfully economics can be used, and this realization had a deep impact on me. I am sure that many in our field had a similar experience when reading Judge Posner’s work and were influenced by it in a similar way.

Beyond shaping the field in this way, Judge Posner has made numerous valuable contributions to the economic analysis of many legal fields. Over the past four decades, he has been an unending fountain of original, creative insights. The author of more than forty books, three hundred articles, and two thousand judicial opinions, he has produced a body of work that has unparalleled breadth, scope, and richness in our field.

Although not part of the basis of the award, I should express on this occasion the ALEA’s appreciation for Judge Posner’s contribution to the institutional development of the law and economics field. He founded and provided intellectual leadership to the Journal of Legal Studies that published many of the early significant contributions to the field. He later co-founded the ALER, which will be publishing the prize lecture we are about to hear. I should also note his service as President of our beloved association in 1995–1996.

In closing, let me thank Judge Posner on behalf of all of us for his pioneering contributions. We in law and economics are all indebted to him.


Read Richard Posner's Paper

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