Introduction: Political Risk and Public Law
8 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2012 Last revised: 27 Jun 2012
Date Written: April 25, 2012
On December 15-16, 2011, Harvard Law School convened a conference on “Political Risk and Public Law.” A special issue of the Journal of Legal Analysis will be devoted to publishing papers on this topic by Jon Elster, Edward Glaeser, Eric Posner, Fred Schauer, Mark Tushnet, and myself. The overall aim is to introduce a new set of questions about public law and a new analytical framework for thinking about those questions. The premise of the enterprise is that constitutions and other instruments of public law may fruitfully be viewed as devices for regulating political risks. Large literatures in law, economics, political science and policy studies examine first-order risks that arise from technology, the market, or nature. By contrast, constitutions and foundational statutes, such as the Administrative Procedure Act, may be understood as devices for regulating second-order risks. These are risks that arise from the design of institutions, the allocation of legal and political power among given institutions, and the selection of officials to staff those institutions.
This perspective employs the framework of risk analysis elaborated by many disciplines across the social and policy sciences. The framework promises new insights for public law. Constitutional actors have often spoken the prose of risk regulation without knowing it, offering arguments about constitutional and institutional design that implicitly posit second-order risks and offer institutional prescriptions for managing those risks. By bringing the analytic structure of those arguments to the surface, political risk analysis promises to allow a more intelligent description and evaluation of the major problems of public law.
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