Law

Gary Becker and Richard Posner on Extension 720

December 14, 2009
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Gary Becker and Richard Posner on Extension 720

Gary Becker and Richard Posner have been offering up some of the most insightful social and political commentary on the internet through The Becker-Posner blog for five years now. Starting back in December of ’04, Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Posner, a renowned jurist and legal scholar, (both at the University of Chicago), teamed up to offer their equally learned, but sometimes conflicting insights on everything from the legalization of gay marriage to the sale of human organs for transplant, quickly building a large, and loyal audience. So large, in fact, that in November of 2009 the University of Chicago Press published a “best of” collection of entries from their blog in their new book: Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism. Recently, Milt Rosenberg, the host of WGN radio’s Extension 720 invited the two on the show to discuss their new book, highlighting their pithy commentary on some of the most hot button issues of the day, including the legitimacy of the death penalty, NYC’s proposed ban on trans fats, and illegal immigration. To listen in navigate to the Extension 720 website to stream or download part 1 and part 2 of their conversation or find out . . .

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Tutorials with Becker and Posner

November 10, 2009
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Tutorials with Becker and Posner

Before Freakonomics there was the Becker-Posner blog. Started in 2004 by Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker and renowned jurist and legal scholar Richard A. Posner, the Becker-Posner Blog was unique in the still-developing blogosphere of the mid-aughts in that it offered a reliable source of lively, thought-provoking commentary on current events, its pithy and profound weekly essays highlighting the value of economic reasoning when applied to unexpected topics. Now in their new book Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism Becker and Posner collect some of their best work from their blog, offering uncanny analyses on everything from gay marriage to proposed bans on trans fats. Recently reviewer John Kay summarized their analysis of New York’s 2006 trans fat ban for a review of the book in the Financial Times, detailing Becker’s insightful economic critique of the issue and Posner’s libertarian counterargument. In the end, as Kay notes, Becker and Posner may not deliver easy answers—especially when these two intellectual powerhouses go head to head on an issue—”but the book is like a series of tutorials from a good teacher, and the object of a good tutorial is not to tell the student the answers.… The objective is . . .

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Press Release: Becker-Posner, Uncommon Sense

November 4, 2009
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Press Release: Becker-Posner, Uncommon Sense

What do you get when you combine one of the world’s most influential economists and one of its most important legal thinkers? Well, when the two men concerned are Gary Becker and Richard Posner, you get sharp commentary, serious analysis, and innovative thinking about a stunning range of contemporary political and social issues. Week after week for nearly five years, that’s what Becker and Posner have been offering at the Becker-Posner blog, and with Uncommon Sense, they gather the best of the posts and running debates that have informed, surprised, and confounded a host of readers. Arranged by topic, and updated to take account of subsequent developments, the essays in this volume bring an economic perspective to such questions as the sale of human organs, the use of steroids in professional sports, the regulation of CEO compensation, and many more. To watch two such erudite thinkers trade ideas—and even forceful disagreements—is a sheer pleasure, and a testament to the power of minds unfettered by convention and unwilling to settle for received wisdom. Read the press release. . . .

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Elyn Saks Wins 2009 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

September 22, 2009
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Elyn Saks Wins 2009 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship

Earlier this morning the Chicago based MacArthur Foundation released a list of its 2009 fellowship recipients including author and legal scholar Elyn Saks. Saks is best known for her work in mental health policy advocacy, addressing legal issues related to those suffering from severe mental illness including involuntary commitment, competency to be executed, proxy consent, and the right to refuse treatment. She has published many books on these issues including Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill—an insightful exploration of when, if ever, the mentally ill should be treated against their will—and, more recently, a memoir of her own battle with schizophrenia in The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. The MacArthur Fellowships, also known as “genius grants,” provide each recipient with $500,000 over five years to facilitate subsequent creative work. We are proud to have supported Saks in her past endeavors and look forward to her future contributions to the field of mental health advocacy as a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. And as we congratulate her, we add her name to the growing list of Press authors who have received a MacArthur fellowship, including 2008 fellowship recipient and author of Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: . . .

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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

July 17, 2009
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What the Lincoln-Douglas debates mean

Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, first published in 1959, has long been regarded as the standard historiography of the pivotal 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln during his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas on the issue of slavery. And in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, the University of Chicago Press has just reissued a new edition of Jaffa’s classic work, acknowledged today by Forbes magazine columnist Peter Robinson in an article that quotes Jaffa himself to demonstrate how the debates “turned on issues that were present at the very founding of western civilization—and that we must face again today.” In the article Jaffa argues that “the issue between Lincoln and Douglas was identical to the issue between Socrates and Thrasymachus in the first book of Plato’s Republic.” Just as Thrasymachus argues that justice “possesses no independent or objective standing” and is at the mercy of those in power, so too did Douglas argue that “the citizens of Kansas or Nebraska could make slavery acceptable in their states simply by voting in favor of it.” The article continues: Lincoln considered . . .

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The American trial’s vanishing act

June 23, 2009
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The American trial’s vanishing act

Fifteen years ago this month, police in California charged O. J. Simpson with murdering his former wife and her friend, then chased him for about 50 miles before he surrendered, starting a process that would lead to one of the most famous trials in recent memory. As Robert Ferguson reminds us in The Trial in American Life, an estimated 150 million Americans, the largest TV audience ever, watched the verdict, which arrived “only after thirteen months of media frenzy.” These excesses were, well, particularly excessive—but they are not unique. In his fascinating investigation of prominent trials in American history, Ferguson points out that “media frenzies during noteworthy trials have become such a staple of our times that dozens of instances will come to mind.” But despite its cultural prominence, the trial is, in reality, almost extinct. In 2002, less than 2 percent of federal civil cases culminated in a trial, down from 12 percent forty years earlier. And the number of criminal trials also dropped dramatically, from 9 percent of cases in 1976 to only 3 percent in 2002. In his new The Death of the American Trial, Robert Burns warns that this decline could lead not only to the . . .

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How did Obama pick Sotomayor?

May 26, 2009
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How did Obama pick Sotomayor?

Now that President Obama has officially announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as the replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, reaction to his decision abounds. Most of the responses look forward—to the looming confirmation process or to how she’ll adjudicate—but some investigate what went into the decision in the first place. That’s where David Yalof comes in. The author of Pursuit of Justices: Presidential Politics and the Selection of Supreme Court Nominees, Yalof was a sought-after commentator in the run up to Obama’s announcement this morning, with organizations from PBS’s NewsHour to CNN asking him to weigh in. In Pursuit of Justices, Yalof’s investigations go even deeper than his recent commentaries, as he takes the reader behind the scenes of what happens before the Senate hearings to show how presidents go about deciding who will sit on the highest court in the land. In the process, he disputes much conventional wisdom about the selection process, including the widely held view that presidents choose nominees primarily to influence future decisions of the high court. . . .

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Press Release: Shane, Madison’s Nightmare

May 14, 2009
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Press Release: Shane, Madison’s Nightmare

Though he campaigned on a theme of change, in his first months in office, Barack Obama has already asserted inherent presidential power in ways reminiscent of his Republican predecessors. While abandoning some of the Bush Administration’s more audacious claims, President Obama has asserted the state secrets privilege in national security litigation, resisted judicial review of enemy combatant detention in Afghanistan, issued signing statements suggesting constitutional reservations about bills he has signed into law, and pursued the Bush Administration’s Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, even though it was never approved by Congress. With Madison’s Nightmare, Peter Shane shows how ambitious assertions of presidential power are the logical outcome of a decades-long trend that has seen presidents of both parties have waged an assault on the basic checks and balances of the U.S. government. Starting with Reagan and the elder Bush, continuing under Clinton, and culminating most spectacularly under the recent Bush administration, this “aggressive presidentialism” has diminished the role of the other branches of government and led to ideological, inappropriate, and sometimes downright illegal actions. If we want our government to work as the Founders intended, simply electing a new president is not enough: both liberals and conservatives must launch . . .

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A critical moment for antitrust law

May 11, 2009
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A critical moment for antitrust law

Several sources reported this morning that the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division under the Obama administration, Christine A. Varney, plans to toughen up on monopolistic and predatory business practices—especially by large enterprises attempting to exploit the weakened positions of smaller companies struggling through the current recession. A Bloomberg article quotes Varney suggesting that “a more vigorous antitrust policy in the financial markets may have helped avert the current economic crisis: ‘Is too big to fail,” she asks, “‘a failure of antitrust?'” According to the New York Times Varney’s plans would restore the same sort of Clinton-era antitrust policy that led to the landmark antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s, and which has since sparked heated debate in Washington about how best to foster a healthy economy that functions in the interests of consumers. Making an important contribution to that debate, William H. Page and John E. Lopatka’s 2007 book The Microsoft Case: Antitrust, High Technology, and Consumer Welfare offers the contrarian argument that consumers are, in fact, rarely served by antitrust intervention. Both the government and the courts, Page and Lopatka contend, were unduly influenced by the harms that Microsoft’s practices would have on its . . .

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Press Release: Burns, The Death of the American Trial

April 20, 2009
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Press Release: Burns, The Death of the American Trial

From the trial of O. J. Simpson to classic films like 12 Angry Men and the seemingly endless incarnations of Law & Order, jury trials real and imagined continue to play a powerful role in American culture. Their role in American justice, however, is shrinking rapidly, as juries decide a smaller fraction of criminal and civil cases with each passing year. In The Death of the American Trial, Robert Burns warns that this decline could lead not only to the loss of a vaunted institution, but also to the dangerous erosion of American democracy. The trial, Burns argues, is one of our greatest public achievements. Demonstrating how trials have always provided a defense against encroaching secrecy and bureaucracy, he lays out the profound consequences of losing an institution that so perfectly embodies democratic governance. As one federal judge put it, the jury is the ”canary in the mineshaft; if it goes, if our people lose their inherited right to do justice in court, other democratic institutions will lose breath too.“ An impassioned and eloquent case for resuscitation, The Death of the American Trial makes clear that to ensure the future health of the nation, the trial’s unique role must continue . . .

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