Chicago School

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Among contemporary movements in U.S. law, few have had as much influence as the Chicago school. This school of thought helped revolutionize legal thinking on economics from the 1970s to the 1980s. At the heart of its philosophy is the idea that economic efficiency should be the goal of national policy and law. This argument left its mark, in particular, in the area of antitrust, where the Chicago school swayed the U.S. Supreme Court for more than a decade. Although they received less attention in the 1990s than they had earlier, the school's leaders continued to rank among the preeminent?and more controversial?figures on the legal landscape.

The Chicago school takes its name from the University of Chicago, with which most of its core proponents were all affiliated at one time. These include Professor Ronald H. Coase, Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, Professor Richard A. Epstein, Professor Daniel R. Fischel, Judge RICHARD A. POSNER, and Judge Ralph K. Winter Jr. ROBERT H. BORK, another prominent member, was a professor at Yale. The early work of the Chicago school, produced in the 1960s, built on scholarship by Professor Aaron Director. Director's specialty had been antitrust, the area of law that addresses UNFAIR COMPETITION in business. Antitrust has a long history, in which ideas have come and gone. Through the late 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court took a harsh view of restraints on trade. The Court ruled that certain anticompetitive practices were per se illegal?so harmful to competition that they need not even be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The Chicago school urged the Court to take another look. Scholars of the school praised economic efficiency. If they could show, for instance, that certain restraints on trade were actually a result of efficient competition, then why should these practices be considered illegal by courts? Underlying this view was the contention that markets could take care of themselves without the need for heavy regulation. It was not long before the Chicago school's ideas began to influence the Supreme Court. In 1977, the Court abandoned its reliance on per se rules in Continental T.V. v. GTE Sylvania, 433 U.S. 36, 97 S. Ct. 2549, 53 L. Ed 2d 568, and turned instead to a rule of "reason," opening a new era in ANTITRUST LAW.

Throughout the 1970s, the Chicago school continued to refine its economic theory in numerous essays and treatises such as Posner's Antitrust Law (1976) and Robert...

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