International Law: A Welfarist Approach

63 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2005

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 6, 2005


This paper evaluates international law from a welfarist perspective. Global welfarism requires that international law advance the well being of everyone in the world, and scholars influenced by global welfarism and similar cosmopolitan principles have advocated radical restructuring of international law. But global welfarism is subject to several constraints, including (1) heterogeneity of preferences of the world population, which produces the state system; (2) agency costs, which produce imperfect governments; and (3) the problem of collective action. These constraints place limits on what policies motivated by global welfarism can achieve, and explain some broad features of international law that otherwise remain puzzling. These features include the central place of state sovereignty in international law despite the moral arbitrariness of borders; the weakness of multilateral treaties; the limited role of individual liability in international law; the predominantly legislative nature of international institutions and the weakness of executive and judicial institutions; and the absence of redistributive obligations in international law.

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., International Law: A Welfarist Approach (September 6, 2005). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 256. Available at SSRN: or

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

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