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Prof. Robert Ellickson to Speak on "The Law and Economics of the Household" at LEO Workshop, Nov. 29


Robert C. Ellickson, the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Property and Urban Law at YLS, will discuss "The Law and Economics of the Household" in the Law, Economics, and Organization Workshop in Room 121 on Thursday, November 29, at 4:10 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

To witness the transmutation of the most common of experiences into the language of the law and economics movement, attend Professor Robert Ellickson's presentation on Thursday. With a snap of his theoretical fingers, he will turn love into an "intimate service" and divorce into an "exit."

And with this transformation from everyday familiarity to analysis, interactions that may have passed under the threshold of assumption become apparent. Ellickson poses questions about how we all structure our lives. "Why are so many households based on kinship? Why have households become smaller, particularly during the twentieth century? . . . From where do households obtain the rules that govern their internal operations?"

On the first of those questions, Ellickson identifies trust as an important factor in why kin tend to live together. "When members of a household trust one another, they incur fewer transaction costs when achieving cooperative outcomes, and therefore reap a larger surplus. . . . Historically, most households have been kinship-based because kinship tends to enhance trustworthiness," writes Ellickson.

Another key question that Ellickson's analysis will consider is, why do "contributors of equity capital typically rule a household, just as they typically rule a business firm"? He finds that this arrangement has advantages in that the contributors of capital tend to be stable and capable of bearing risk, while having more consistent interests than other occupants of a household might.

Furthermore, Ellickson points out that law has a minimal control over the interactions within a household. "People don't run to the law books when deciding who's going to take out the garbage," he says. He has done research on how neighbors enforce obligations through reputations and social norms (for his book "Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes" [Harvard University Press]) and sees a similar process in the household. However, social norms do inevitably "interact with law"--and that is what Ellickson studies.

Examining these everyday, ordinary decisions and interactions has a broader importance, according to Ellickson, because not only is "the household . . . a prime site for economic production, leisure activity, and intimate social interactions," but it is the "basic social molecule."

Ellickson writes: "It is within the household that most children first learn how to recognize and deal with the problems posed by common property, collective enterprise, and intrafamily dependence. A deeper understanding of the household therefore may shed light on more complex institutions."

The Yale LEO Workshop is an interdisciplinary faculty workshop that brings to Yale Law School scholars, who present papers based on their current research. The topics involve a broad range of issues of general legal and social science interest.

Related Link:
Read Professor Ellickson's Paper through the LEO Workshop Schedule