Anonymity, the Production of Goods, and Institutional Design

Fordham Law Review, Forthcoming

64 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2013 Last revised: 4 Sep 2013

See all articles by Jeffrey M. Skopek

Jeffrey M. Skopek

University of Cambridge; Harvard Law School

Date Written: August 15, 2013


In this article, I demonstrate that anonymity has been misconceived as an aspect of privacy, and that understanding this mistake reveals a powerful and underutilized set of legal tools for facilitating and controlling the production of information and other social “goods” (ranging from uncorrupted votes and campaign donations, to tissue samples and funding for biomedical research). There are three core components to this analysis. First, I offer a taxonomic analysis of existing law, revealing that in areas ranging from contract and copyright to criminal law and constitutional law, the production of information and other goods is being targeted by three types of anonymity rules — by rules that make anonymity and non-anonymity into rights, conditions of exercising rights, and most surprisingly, triggers that extinguish rights. Second, I propose a theory that makes sense of our law’s uses these rules, identifying a cohesive set of functions that they perform across three phases in the production of a good: its creation, evaluation, and allocation. Third, I use my taxonomic and theoretical analysis to develop generally applicable lessons for the design of law and policy. Applying these lessons to a set of difficult and pressing questions concerning the production of specific biomedical and democratic goods, I demonstrate that they reveal innovative solutions that balance a wide variety of important and conflicting interests and concerns.

Keywords: anonymity, privacy, public goods, conflicts of interest, biobanking, tissue rights, sperm donation, taxonomy

Suggested Citation

Skopek, Jeffrey M., Anonymity, the Production of Goods, and Institutional Design (August 15, 2013). Fordham Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey M. Skopek (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Faculty of Law
10 West Rd
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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