The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law

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Ward Farnsworth

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Book Review

"The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law"
By Ward Farnsworth
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (2007)  
ISBN-13: 978-0-226-23834-0 (cloth)

Why am I reviewing a law book on this web site? It is because this book does not cover legal rules but how to think about laws and legal problems.  It highlights crucial foundations of laws in the United Sates and the tools with which legal decisions are made.

Ward Farnsworth through a fluent and uncomplicated language and using many vivid real-world examples guides readers into the fascinating world of legal thought. He picks up complicated subjects in game theory such as “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” Lean concepts such as "Waste minimization and Efficiency,"  psychological principles such as “Hindsight Bias,” or ideas in jurisprudence such as the “Slippery Slope” and guides the reader, using uncomplicated and nontechnical language, on how each technique can be applied to solve a variety of problems.  This book will improve your personal and managerial decision making skills as well.  Once you start reading a few pages of it,  you would not want to put it down.
 
The author points out that the intent of the US Primary Founders was prevention of absolute power through separation of power into legislative, judicial, and executive branches. However, we observe the extreme domination of laws and lawyers in all aspects of lives and in all three branches of the Government to the extent that if Abraham Lincoln was alive today, he would probably be modifying his famous statement by whispering into our ears: “A Government of lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers!” The author highlights how this separation of powers has led to “Rent Seeking” activities by Congress and how it causes making any changes in the system so difficult and painful.
 
What is so fascinating about this book, though requiring further scrutiny, is its strong emphasis on the Principle of “Wealth Maximization” in decision making and legal thought. In a vivid example in the book, a neighbor’s ferocious ox has trespassed into your farm and is about to gore your goat. You’ll have to choose between shooting the ox and letting your goat die. So you shoot the ox. Do you owe your neighbor a new ox?  (Think about this before reading further.)
 
Well, I'm not going to give you the answer! But through the concept of a “Single Owner,” the author skillfully gives the answer and the why. If you owned both farms, the goat, and the ox (single-owner rule) and your ox was worth five times that of your goat, would you still be that trigger happy to kill your ox instead of letting your goat die?  The death of either animal would be a cost to you and the principle of “Wealth Maximization” comes into effect. Doesn't this concept of "Single Owner" rule remind you of the proposed "Single Payer" in the health care reform plan?

The author brings up so many diverse and at times surprising applications of the Rational “Wealth Maximization “principle, which is consciously or unconsciously behind many US Judicial decisions. It shows that “Justice” and “Rights” are concepts that have a price associated with them. There is a “Price” at which you would be willing to sell your “right.” A court may actually rule against the party who values a right much more than the opposing side does in order to force further negotiations between the two sides so that the losing side may buy the winning side's right to the claim! The question becomes: How much “Justice” can you afford to buy?
 
Reading this book, you may become convinced that the traditional Judeo-Christian values in the US have heavily shifted toward Judean values, deemphasizing ethics in economic rationalism. As a contemporary example, one would have thought that after all the taxpayers had done for the executives of “too big to fail” companies, they would have shown appreciation by not giving themselves such huge bonuses but they followed:  “Do whatever you want, whenever you can, if you can get away with it! “It’s unlawful only if you get caught!”
 
Indeed for a long time the question of “Why should I be moral?” has been a vexing question for philosophers. This book gives substantial evidence to how much moral virtues such as justice and benevolence have been ignored as reasons to act in a system under economic rationalism. Perhaps the dire consequences of this ignorance would be nowhere more pronounced than in the health care and education systems if they were solely to run as businesses under strict economic rationalism!
 
This is a 5-Star book and I highly recommend it.
--malekz