Adam Smith, Prophet of Law & Economics

38 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2016 Last revised: 13 Apr 2017

See all articles by Paul G. Mahoney

Paul G. Mahoney

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: January 2017


Adam Smith is not normally identified as an important figure in law and economics. However, his Lectures on Jurisprudence contain a surprising number of insights that would be repeated by law and economics scholars of the late twentieth century. This essay argues for Smith’s place in law and economics, identifying some of his most important arguments and emphasizing their contribution to legal theory. It also suggests reasons why Smith’s ideas did not lead immediately to the widespread adoption of efficiency-based explanations for legal rules.

Keywords: Adam Smith, jurisprudence, law & economics

JEL Classification: B11, B31, K1

Suggested Citation

Mahoney, Paul G., Adam Smith, Prophet of Law & Economics (January 2017). Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming, Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2016-5, Available at SSRN: or

Paul G. Mahoney (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-7121 (Phone)
434-924-7536 (Fax)

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