The Uneasy Case for Equal Access Law

45 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2013 Last revised: 31 Mar 2014

Omri Ben-Shahar

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: January 1, 2013


Equal Access is one of the most appealing and least contentious regulatory techniques in law’s repertoire. It aspires to give people even opportunity to utilize certain primary goods, and it does so by assuring openness — that access to these goods is not distorted by wealth or by privilege. But equal access often fails, because access and its benefits are deployed disproportionately by elites, yet paid for directly or indirectly by weaker groups. This article demonstrates the unintended and regressive cross-subsidy created by policies of access to information, compensation, insurance, and accommodations. It then examines the debate over access to courts, and the effect of mandatory arbitration agreements that limit such access. It demonstrates that access to courts is a benefit to the elite and of little value to weak consumers. Finally, it considers the effect of arbitration clauses on class actions, and whether weak consumers are potentially the indirect beneficiaries of class action litigation. This argument has theoretical merit, but it, too, is limited in ways that are often unappreciated.

Suggested Citation

Ben-Shahar, Omri, The Uneasy Case for Equal Access Law (January 1, 2013). University of Chicago Institute for Law & Economics Olin Research Paper No. 628. Available at SSRN: or

Omri Ben-Shahar (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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