Too many laws, too many lawyers—that’s the necessary consequence of a complex society, or so conventional wisdom has it. Countless pundits insist that any call for legal simplification smacks of nostalgia, sentimentality, or naiveté. But the conventional view, the noted legal scholar Richard Epstein tells us, has it exactly backward. The richer texture of modern society allows for more individual freedom and choice. And it allows us to organize a comprehensive legal order capable of meeting the technological and social challenges of today on the basis of just six core principles. In this book, Epstein demonstrates how.
The first four rules, which regulate human interactions in ordinary social life, concern the autonomy of the individual, property, contract, and tort. Taken together these rules establish and protect consistent entitlements over all resources, both human and natural. These rules are backstopped by two more rules that permit forced exchanges on payment of just compensation when private or public necessity so dictates. Epstein then uses these six building blocks to clarify many intractable problems in the modern legal landscape. His discussion of employment contracts explains the hidden virtues of contracts at will and exposes the crippling weaknesses of laws regarding collective bargaining, unjust dismissal, employer discrimination, and comparable worth. And his analysis shows how laws governing liability for products and professional services, corporate transactions, and environmental protection have generated unnecessary social strife and economic dislocation by violating these basic principles.
Simple Rules for a Complex World offers a sophisticated agenda for comprehensive social reform that undoes much of the mischief of the modern regulatory state. At a time when most Americans have come to distrust and fear government at all levels, Epstein shows how a consistent application of economic and political theory allows us to steer a middle path between too much and too little.