PUBLISHED:February 21, 2013

Duke Law launches Center for Law, Economics and Public Policy

Duke Law’s new Center for Law, Economics and Public Policy will promote research and scholarship at the intersection of those three disciplines, as well as others such as philosophy and psychology.  Directed by Matthew Adler, the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law, who holds secondary appointments at Duke University in public policy and philosophy, the center’s first interdisciplinary conference, scheduled for May 22 and 23, will examine “New Scholarship on Happiness.” 

“The conference is going to bring together leading economists, philosophers,psychologists and legal scholars all working on that topic,” said Adler.  “Academics and policymakers are approaching happiness seriously. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is one of the things that the Cameron government came into power talking about, and there is now official statistical polling about happiness.”

This examination of “happiness” offers an example of the center’s broader agenda, said Adler.  “The focus of the center is going to be normative, that is, ‘How should we design public policy and policy evaluation methodologies to advance the public good?’ That agenda encompasses lawyers, welfare economists and anyone engaged by normative questions, including philosophers,” he said. “The center takes advantage of Duke’s inherent strengths in law, law and economics, public policy, economics, and philosophy. And there are also strong faculty in those areas at other universities in this area.

“The goal of the center is really to organize scholarly activities, bring together people at those intersections, from the Law School, from the broader Duke community, and from outside the university,” Adler said.

Adler focuses much of his scholarship on welfare economics which, he noted, “thinks very systematically about human well-being, and how to design policy in light of human well-being, using formal mathematical techniques  There are close connections between that and the law, especially public law.” His new book, Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis (Oxford, 2012), which proposes the incorporation of a concern for inequality into cost-benefit analysis, offers just one example of the center’s scholarly focus.

“Although the central focus of the center is going to be on public policy and public law, there is a much broader view of law and economics that thinks about how we’re going to use economic modalities to design legal doctrine,” Adler says. “For example, there is a lot of literature on the law and economics of tort law, contract law and so forth, and we may well have activities connected to those issues.”