Investment Indiscipline: A Behavioral Approach to Mutual Fund Jurisprudence

48 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009 Last revised: 14 Aug 2012

See all articles by William A. Birdthistle

William A. Birdthistle

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: June 1, 2009


Next Term, in Jones v. Harris, the Supreme Court will be called upon to resolve philosophical divergences on a massive, critical, yet academically slighted subject: the dysfunctional system through which almost one hundred million Americans attempt to save more than ten trillion dollars for their retirement. When this case was in the Seventh Circuit, two of the foremost theorists of law and economics, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judge Richard Posner, disagreed vociferously on competing analyses of the investment industry. The Supreme Court’s ruling will not only resolve the intricate fiduciary and doctrinal issues of this dispute but also have profound implications upon several major theoretical debates in contemporary American jurisprudence: the clash of classical versus behavioral economics; the judicial capacity to evaluate increasingly sophisticated econometric analyses of financial systems; and the determination of the legal constraints - if any - upon executive compensation decisions.

In this Article, I advance a positive account of the economic and legal context of this dispute and then argue normatively for a behavioral approach to its resolution. Because of the unique structure and history of the personal investment industry in the United States, the architecture of this segment of the economy is singularly bereft of beneficial market forces and thus vulnerable to significant fiduciary distortions. The ultimate judicial resolution of this dispute should take full account of the behavioral constraints upon individual investors and their advisors to avoid nullifying a federal statute and to impose discipline in a vital segment of the U.S. economy.

Keywords: mutual fund, gartenberg, section 36(b), fiduciary duty, Jones, Harris, Jones v. Harris, behavioral economics, governance, investment, savings, retirement, excessive, fees

Suggested Citation

Birdthistle, William A., Investment Indiscipline: A Behavioral Approach to Mutual Fund Jurisprudence (June 1, 2009). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2010, No. 1, p. 61, Available at SSRN:

William A. Birdthistle (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics