The Optimal Complexity of Legal Rules

32 Pages Posted: 13 May 2004  

Richard A. Epstein

New York University School of Law; Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: April 2004

Abstract

Legal systems must deal not only with the cognitive limitations of ordinary individuals, but must also seek to curb the excesses of individual self-interest without conferring excessive powers on state individuals whose motives and cognitive powers are themselves not above question. Much modern law sees administrative expertise as the solution to these problems. But in fact the traditional and simpler rules of thumb that dominated natural law thinking often do a better job in overcoming these cognitive and motivational weaknesses. The optimal strategy involves the fragmentation of government power, and the limitation of public discretion. Three types of rules that help achieve this result are rules of absolute priority, rules that judge conduct by outcomes not inputs, and rules that use simple proration formulas to allocate benefits and burdens.

Suggested Citation

Epstein, Richard A., The Optimal Complexity of Legal Rules (April 2004). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 210. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=546103 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.546103

Richard A. Epstein (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States
(212) 992-8858 (Phone)
(212) 995-4894 (Fax)

Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-9563 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)

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