Posner Meets Hayek: The Elements of an Austrian Law & Economics Research Program


To date, Friedrich Hayek is the only winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics who also holds a law degree. The role of law is central to Hayek’s work and prominent in the research program of the Austrian School of Economics generally. Although Hayek’s contributions to jurisprudence are manifest, as are the influence of his economics ideas, his influence on the field of law and economics has remained modest. This lecture, delivered as the Keynote Lecture at the 2023 Asian Law & Economics Association Annual Meeting, provides an introduction to the fundamentals of an Austrian Law & Economics research program in contrast to the mainstream, Chicago-school research program that has dominated the field since its early history. Compared to the neoclassical approach, Austrian thinking provides a more insightful approach to many of the key concepts generally associated with the economic analysis of law: the nature and success of the common law as a system of law, the importance of stability and simple rules in the law, and the strong preference for private ordering via contract, personal autonomy, and voluntary exchange exhibited in the common law.

I identify and briefly describe six key distinguishing characteristics of the Austrian school that distinguishes it from neoclassical law and economics: (1) Methodological individualism, (2) utility and costs are subjective, (3) the division of knowledge, (4) spontaneous order, (5) competition as a discovery procedure, and (6) the nature of economic equilibrium. I will also highlight some of the ways in which examining law and economics through an Austrian framework provides valuable insights about law and economics.

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