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What is Law? A Coordination Account of the Characteristics of Legal Order

Gillian K. Hadfield

USC Law School and Department of Economics

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University

September 2012

The Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol 4

Legal philosophers have long debated the question, what is law? But few in social science have attempted to explain the phenomenon of legal order. In this paper we build a rational choice model of legal order in an environment that relies exclusively on decentralized enforcement, such as we find in human societies prior to the emergence of the nation state and in many modern settings. We begin with a simple set of axioms about what counts as legal order. We then demonstrate that we can support an equilibrium in which wrongful behavior is effectively deterred by exclusively decentralized enforcement, specifically collective punishment. Equilibrium is achieved by an institution that supplies a common logic for classifying behavior as wrongful or not. We demonstrate that several features ordinarily associated with legal order such as generality, impersonality, open process and stability can be explained by the incentive and coordination problems facing collective punishment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: rule of law, philosophy of law, coordinated punishment, legal origins

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Date posted: November 11, 2010 ; Last revised: November 12, 2013

Suggested Citation

Hadfield, Gillian K. and Weingast, Barry R., What is Law? A Coordination Account of the Characteristics of Legal Order (September 2012). The Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol 4. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1707083

Contact Information

Gillian K. Hadfield (Contact Author)
USC Law School and Department of Economics ( email )
699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-821-6793 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

Barry R. Weingast
Stanford University ( email )
Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://https://www.stanford.edu/group/mcnollgast/cgi-bin/wordpress/
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