Olin Brings Law and Economics to Campus

  • Education
  • 1974

Among the most significant intellectual revolutions of America’s twentieth century is the so-called Law and Economics movement. Pioneered at the University of Chicago, this school of thought has injected market disciplines and knowledge into the making of legal and regulatory policy. In the process, notes distinguished legal scholar Michael McConnell, it “has profoundly affected the way we think and talk about law.”

It is highly doubtful that the new scholarship would have taken root as it has absent the dedicated support of the John M. Olin Foundation. A scientist and successful business-builder, Olin viewed market mechanisms as important guarantors of both efficiency and equity. His foundation began funding scholarships to promote economic logic, then eventually concentrated on a methodical and focused effort to underwrite professors committed to a new synthesis of economic principles and jurisprudence, at some of the country’s top colleges and universities. All told, Olin contributed about $50 million to support Law and Economics scholarship within law schools, and an additional $20 million to underwrite individual research and special programs.

One specialized Olin-funded program offered economics training for judges. By 2015 4,000 sitting judges had participated in these seminars, including a very large portion of all top federal jurists. A typical institute for judges might include 21 hours of lectures over a several-day period, plus about 500 pages of required reading on economic issues and their relevance in the courtroom. This has helped familiarize the judiciary with the complexities of economic regulation and related issues, and has had a remarkable influence in introducing high-level economic reasoning into legal decisionmaking in America.