Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 4:10pm to 5:45pm
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Zoom Meeting (Details to Follow)

Law and Economics Colloquium


Alan Schwartz
Yale Law School

The Unavoidable Production Problem in Contract Law

Tuesday September 22, 2020
4:10pm - 5:45pm
ZOOM Meeting (details to be provided) 

Abstract: Contract law has long suffered from an institutional problem:  what legal institution can best create an efficient law for commercial contracts? Until the early 20th century, the vast majority of contract law was created by common law courts. The common law created contract default rules that possessed three key properties: they solved contracting problems (i) that parties in very diverse contexts faced, (ii) as the parties would have solved them had they contracted about the matter, and (iii) the defaults were updated as commerce changed.  But common law courts are slow:  default rules require years to take form.  In response, the 20th century saw public and private law making bodies enact commercial statutes to update discrete legal areas such as secured credit, commercial paper and bankruptcy.   The private law-making efforts were propelled initially by the need to address specialized fields where more rapid updating was needed, but any revisions to these statutes were controlled by cohesive interest groups whose actions only serve their private interests.  These private lawmaking efforts also assumed a generalist portfolio. In the Uniform Commercial Code, they reached beyond specialized fields to the law of sales and then, in the Restatements, to all contracting behavior. These generalist bodies also had a serious flaw.  Even if their rules were efficient when created, the rules did not change with changing commercial practice.  We show that such “obsolescence”  -- the persistence of rules that only solve yesterday’s contracting problems - is a) common in the efforts of the  generalist private law maker, b) is hard to avoid, and c) induces socially inefficient contractual responses. This leaves a set of unsatisfactory institutional choices for producing a general law of commercial contracts: specialized fields are subject to interest group capture and intrinsic flaws prevent generalist law-making bodies from updating their rules as commerce changes; courts may be slow but no other institution has done better in combatting the obsolescence concern. 

Alan Schwartz is a Sterling Professor at Yale University. His appointments are in the Yale Law School  and the Yale School of Management. Professor Schwartz’s academic specialties include corporate finance and corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, contracts and commercial transactions.

For further workshop information contact events.law@utoronto.ca