Here is my disclaimer: I'm from "tornado alley." Here is "my tornado." The Lubbock tornado was 43 years ago (gulp), when I was an infant. I have no memories of it, just the story that my parents told me. We went down the street to a neighbor's storm cellar; the tornado didn't come that close to our neighborhood; we left the dog in our kitchen.
This week, as the history of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado is being written, I have read articles and heard radio stories asking why more residents in tornado-prone areas don't have storm cellars or safe rooms in their houses, schools, etc. Not only why don't residents take more precautions, but why doesn't the law require new houses have tornado protection (similar to earthquake building requirements).
I never had a basement until I moved out of Texas to the Midwest. In West Texas, and it seems Oklahoma and maybe further north, basements aren't really necessary. Land is flat and available. If you want more square footage, building out is cheaper than digging a basement in the really, really hard soil. I remember having two friends my entire childhood that had basements, and everyone was really, really jealous of them (mostly because there seemed to be a lot more kissing in basements than in main floor family rooms). Basements would also be handy in the case of a tornado, but are rare. Instead of digging a basement, the law could require a separate storm cellar in a backyard or attached. The NYT article estimated this cost as $4k, which seems like a low estimate to me. So, is adding $4k to every newly constructed home prohibitive? Is it wise?
The problem is that everyone doesn't need their own cellar, and most people will never need one. If you think of all the homes that are situated in tornado alley, the probability of a particular home needing a cellar is really, really low. And the cellar doesn't save your house. It saves you, if you happen to be at your house. At least in the Lubbock tornado, many victims were in cars, or fleeing their cars. (Here are some pretty interesting tornado data.) The reporters seen to think the probability of needing a cellar is really high in Moore, which also had a tornado in 1999 (no fatalities, but property damage). In a perfect world, there would be one storm cellar, safe room or basement per block, not per house. That's pretty hard to regulate. But, having a storm cellar or safe room per school or office building doesn't seem like a bad idea. (I haven't heard anyone talk about mobile homes/trailer homes, which are even less stable than a home with a shallow foundation.)
Interestingly, this same week, commentators in the news have questioned Angelina Jolie's choice to have genetic testing for breast cancer (that costs $3-4k, a little less than a storm shelter), then have a double mastectomy when she learned a rare gene gave her probability of getting breast cancer was 87%. Well, no one in tornado alley has an 87% chance of dying in a tornado.
The other variable, besides the probability that a tornado will hit not only your town, but your block, is whether you would go into the storm cellar. Here, the NYT article and the NPR story seemed to suggest that there is a low level of panic for residents of tornado alley. That may be true. The summers of my childhood seemed to be filled with tornado warnings and tornado watches, which we soon began to ignore. These warnings would shoot across our broadcast TV channels, and some families had storm radios in case the electricity went off. But, after awhile, you get a little desensitized to the daily tornado warning. And, of course, there are stormchasers, a category of thrill-seekers that I still don't understand. But even non-stormchasers can be mesmerized on their way to the cellar watching the sky, which looks really awesome in the middle of a storm.
But I guess what bothers me about these "why don't you have a cellar" questions is an underlying sense that people in tornado alley are stupid, so we should regulate their housing. I disagree.
One of my colleagues said that my latest article (written with one of my excellent students, Jordan Lee) sounds like an R-rated movie. The title is Discretion, and here is the abstract:
Discretion is an important feature of all contractual relationships. In this Article, we rely on incomplete contract theory to motivate our study of discretion, with particular attention to fiduciary relationships. We make two contributions to the substantial literature on fiduciary law. First, we describe the role of fiduciary law as “boundary enforcement,” and we urge courts to honor the appropriate exercise of discretion by fiduciaries, even when the beneficiary or the judge might perceive a preferable action after the fact. Second, we answer the question, how should a court define the boundaries of fiduciary discretion? We observe that courts often define these boundaries by reference to industry customs and social norms. We also defend this as the most sensible and coherent approach to boundary enforcement.
I wrote an article about a decade ago called "The Critical Resource Theory of Fiduciary Duty" that still gets downloaded and cited a fair amount, at least for a fiduciary duty article. It is about the structure of fiduciary relationships, and I wanted to do a follow on article about how courts know when someone has breached a fiduciary duty. I actually had a fairly long draft of an article that was just horrible, and I never published it, but I kept thinking about and teaching about this problem. Earlier this year, I had a brainstorm about the subject, and the result is this new article.
By the way, interest in fiduciary law seems to have exploded in the past decade. Some of that interest stems from Tamar Frankel's book and the accompanying conference at Boston University. Some of the interest stems from the fact that fiduciary law is interesting in many countries outside the United States, where much of the best writing on this subject is found (see Paul Miller, for example). I look forward to a new surge in interest this summer, as Andrew Gold and Paul Miller have organized an excellent conference on The Philosophical Foundations of Fiduciary Law, to be held in Chicago. I am writing a paper entitled "True Loyalty" for that conference and very much looking forward to reading the other contributions.
Here are a few gift suggestions culled from books published this year if your special someone is a lawyer who associates Modigliani and Miller with capital structure and not paintings with elongated faces and the Tropic of Cancer:
- Tamar Frankel’s The Ponzi Scheme Puzzle;
- Steve Bainbridge’s Corporate Governance after the Financial Crisis (for a point of comparison, see his former colleague Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public);
- Research Handbook on the Economics of Corporate Law, a collection edited by Claire Hill & Brett McDonnell.
Even the non-lawyers and non-academics in your life might enjoy Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. Of course, the target audience might never get around to buying the book.
Our local newspaper had a front-page story yesterday highlighting the fact that in a number of recent bank robberies (yes, they still rob banks here), the security photos were so blurry and grainy that they were simply useless. In fact, one bank still used a system that shot only black and white photos. Why would banks have less photographic technology than your cell phone? The article went on to describe state-of-the-art systems a bank might want to install from $2,000 to $14,000. My first thought was "Why wouldn't a bank install a $10k security system?" And my second thought was "Why would a bank spend $10k on a security sytem?"
The answer to these questions would depend on the difference between the costs to the bank of a "cleared" bank robbery versus an "uncleared bank robbery. Banks obviously have an interest in deterring bank robberies and avoiding employee and/or customer victimization and trauma, violence, and loss of customers. But once the robbery takes place, does it matter to the bank if the robber is caught?
I found a DOJ report on bank robbery, although it's a few years old. From this report, I learned that in 80% of robberies, the money is never recovered, and that 20% number includes robbers who are apprehended on the spot. So, once the robber is out the door, the chances of avoiding a loss is pretty low, even if your photo is incredibly clear. Also, most bank robbers get caught anyway -- 1/3 in 24 hours, and 1/2 in a month. If not caught quickly, the chances of the robber being caught rapidly diminish, probably reflecting the difference between amateur robbers and professional robbers. So, if you are a small-town bank, you may not feel that investing a lot of money in security cameras when the amateur robber will probably be caught anyway, and then even empty-handed. If you are a big, national bank with a presence in urban centers that might be attractive to professionals, then you might want to be on the forefront of security.
Also, the average robber gets away with $4000, and most banks have a 50% chance of being robbed over 10 years. So, the probable costs of the robbery, disocunted over time, may just not add up, even if you thought you could recover the $4000. Other costs to the bank, trauma therapy, employee time off, etc., would not be recoverable anyway.
But, do security cameras deter thieves? According to the DOJ report, no. Professionals wear disguises or disable cameras. Amateurs don't seem to figure them into the calculation. There are other ways to try to deter theft or minimize it, but some of them are expensive (security guards) or put off customers ("bandit barriers"). It may be that some banks just consider the occasional robbery as a cost of doing business.
Finally, bank robberies are not covered by FDIC insurance, but are covered by private insurance. Unless the insurer gives discounts or requires additional security measures, similar to smoke detectors or sprinkler systems, then the bank's incentives are even smaller.
But what about convenience stores? According to our newspaper, these stores have state-of-the-art equipment. Are convenience store owners' incentives different? First, 6% of robberies occur at convenience store, as compared to 2% at banks. Independent stores may not be as well-insured and so may more directly bear the costs of robberies. Also, convenience stores who are robbed have a greater chance of being robbed again if the robber isn't caught. In addition, these cameras work better because they have to cover smaller areas and are usually well-positioned.
Here is a highly productive way for business law professors to procrastinate from grading exams:
The National Bureau of Economic Research just circulated a new version of a paper that provides a medieval complement to the law & finance literature and to Gilson's lawyer as transaction cost engineer idea. The paper by Davide Cantoni and Noam Yuchtman presents evidence that the training of commercial lawyers by new universities contributed to the expansion of economic activity in medieval Germany. Here is the abstract:
We present new data documenting medieval Europe's "Commercial Revolution'' using information on the establishment of markets in Germany. We use these data to test whether medieval universities played a causal role in expanding economic activity, examining the foundation of Germany's first universities after 1386 following the Papal Schism. We find that the trend rate of market establishment breaks upward in 1386 and that this break is greatest where the distance to a university shrank most. There is no differential pre-1386 trend associated with the reduction in distance to a university, and there is no break in trend in 1386 where university proximity did not change. These results are not affected by excluding cities close to universities or cities belonging to territories that included universities. Universities provided training in newly-rediscovered Roman and Canon law; students with legal training served in positions that reduced the uncertainty of trade in medieval Europe. We argue that training in the law, and the consequent development of legal and administrative institutions, was an important channel linking universities and greater economic activity.
A very interesting read.
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The 2011 symposium edition of the Berkeley Business Law Journal on Dodd-Frank is out. I would like to thank the editors and the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy for inviting me to a great conference. My contribution, Credit Derivatives, Leverage, and Financial Regulation’s Missing Macroeconomic Dimension is now up on ssrn. Here is the abstract:
Of all OTC derivatives, credit derivatives pose particular concerns because of their ability to generate leverage that can increase liquidity - or the effective money supply - throughout the financial system. Credit derivatives and the leverage they create thus do much more than increase the fragility of financial institutions and increase counterparty risk. By increasing leverage and liquidity, credit derivatives can fuel rises in asset prices and even asset price bubbles. Rising asset prices can then mask mistakes in the pricing of credit derivatives and in assessments of overall leverage in the financial system. Furthermore, the use of credit derivatives by financial institutions can contribute to a cycle of leveraging and deleveraging in the economy.
This Article argues for viewing many of the policy responses to credit derivatives, such as requirements that these derivatives be exchange traded, centrally cleared, or otherwise subject to collateral or 'margin' requirements, in a second, macroeconomic dimension. These rules have the potential to change – or at least better measure – the amount of liquidity and the supply of credit in financial markets and in the 'real' economy. By examining credit derivatives, this Article illustrates the need to see a wide array of financial regulations in a macroeconomic context.
Understanding credit derivatives’ macroeconomic effects has implications for macroprudential regulatory design. First, regulations that address financial institution leverage offer central bankers new tools to dampen inflation in asset markets and to fight potential asset price bubbles. Second, even if these regulations are not used primarily as monetary or macroeconomic levers, changes in these regulations, including changes in the effectiveness of these regulations due to regulatory arbitrage, can have profound macroeconomic effects. Third, the macroeconomic dimension of credit derivative regulation and other financial regulation argues for greater coordination between prudential regulation and macroeconomic policy.
Comments by e-mail are always welcome.
Time Magazine’s “person of the year” is the “protestor.” Occupy Wall Street’s participants have generated discussion unprecedented in recent years about the role of corporations and their executives in society. The movement has influenced workers and unemployed alike around the world and has clearly shaped the political debate.
But how does a corporation really act? Doesn’t it act through its people? And do those people behave like the members of the homo economicus species acting rationally, selfishly for their greatest material advantage and without consideration about morality, ethics or other people? If so, can a corporation really have a conscience?
In her book Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People, Lynn Stout, a corporate and securities professor at UCLA School of Law argues that the homo economicus model does a poor job of predicting behavior within corporations. Stout takes aim at Oliver Wendell Holmes’ theory of the “bad man” (which forms the basis of homo economicus), Hobbes’ approach in Leviathan, John Stuart Mill’s theory of political economy, and those judges, law professors, regulators and policymakers who focus solely on the law and economics theory that material incentives are the only things that matter.
Citing hundreds of sociological studies that have been replicated around the world over the past fifty years, evolutionary biology, and experimental gaming theory, she concludes that people do not generally behave like the “rational maximizers” that ecomonic theory would predict. In fact other than the 1-3% of the population who are psychopaths, people are “prosocial, ” meaning that they sacrifice to follow ethical rules, or to help or avoid harming others (although interestingly in student studies, economics majors tended to be less prosocial than others).
She recommends a three-factor model for judges, regulators and legislators who want to shape human behavior:
“Unselfish prosocial behavior toward strangers, including unselfish compliance with legal and ethical rules, is triggered by social context, including especially:
(1) instructions from authority
(2) beliefs about others’ prosocial behavior; and
(3) the magnitude of the benefits to others.
Prosocial behavior declines, however, as the personal cost of acting prosocially increases.”
While she focuses on tort, contract and criminal law, her model and criticisms of the homo economicus model may be particularly helpful in the context of understanding corporate behavior. Corporations clearly influence how their people act. Professor Pamela Bucy, for example, argues that government should only be able to convict a corporation if it proves that the corporate ethos encouraged agents of the corporation to commit the criminal act. That corporate ethos results from individuals working together toward corporate goals.
Stout observes that an entire generation of business and political leaders has been taught that people only respond to material incentives, which leads to poor planning that can have devastating results by steering naturally prosocial people to toward unethical or illegal behavior. She warns against “rais[ing] the cost of conscience,” stating that “if we want people to be good, we must not tempt them to be bad.”
In her forthcoming article “Killing Conscience: The Unintended Behavioral Consequences of ‘Pay for Performance,’” she applies behavioral science to incentive based-pay. She points to the savings and loans crisis of the 80's, the recent teacher cheating scandals on standardized tests, Enron, Worldcom, the 2008 credit crisis, which stemmed in part from performance-based bonuses that tempted brokers to approve risky loans, and Bear Sterns and AIG executives who bet on risky derivatives. She disagrees with those who say that that those incentive plans were poorly designed, arguing instead that excessive reliance on even well designed ex-ante incentive plans can “snuff out” or suppress conscience and create “psycopathogenic” environments, and has done so as evidenced by “a disturbing outbreak of executive-driven corporate frauds, scandals and failures.” She further notes that the pay for performance movement has produced less than stellar improvement in the performance and profitability of most US companies.
She advocates instead for trust-based” compensation arrangements, which take into account the parties’ capacity for prosocial behavior rather than leading employees to believe that the employer rewards selfish behavior. This is especially true if that reward tempts employees to engage in fraudulent or opportunistic behavior if that is the only way to realistically achieve the performance metric.
Applying her three factor model looks like this: Does the company’s messaging tell employees that it doesn’t care about ethics? Is it rewarding other people to act in the same way? And is it signaling that there is nothing wrong with unethical behavior or that there are no victims? This theory fits in nicely with the Bucy corporate ethos paradigm described above.
Stout proposes modest, nonmaterial rewards such as greater job responsibilities, public recognition, and more reasonable cash awards based upon subjective, ex post evaluations on the employee’s performance, and cites studies indicating that most employees thrive and are more creative in environments that don’t focus on ex ante monetary incentives. She yearns for the pre 162(m) days when the tax code didn’t require corporations to tie executive pay over one million dollars to performance metrics.
Stout’s application of these behavioral science theories provide guidance that lawmakers and others may want to consider as they look at legislation to prevent or at least mitigate the next corporate scandal. She also provides food for thought for those in corporate America who want to change the dynamics and trust factors within their organizations, and by extension their employee base, shareholders and the general population.
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In the wake of the recent financial crisis, I’ve been pondering the role of courts in the formation and execution of corporate financial law and policy. My focus quickly shifts to a predicate question: How do courts currently handle controversies relating to complex corporate financial arrangements? And what can we learn from judicial action and inaction in this realm?
My Article, Confronting the Certainty Imperative in Corporate Finance Jurisprudence (forthcoming in the Utah Law Review), explores the (seemingly nonexistent) role of the judiciary in shaping corporate financial law. Analyzing finance and lending jurisprudence, including cases in the related areas of consumer finance and public finance, I discover a judicial narrative of restraint, deference and abstention.
In particular, the dominant judicial decision-making paradigm in lending and finance asserts that stable financial markets require an environment of “legal certainty,” which is achieved when courts exercise considerable restraint. In disputes that stem from private financial agreements, courts show restraint by narrowly tailoring opinions to strict construction and passive enforcement of underlying contracts, and by declining to extend common law doctrines.
I call this paradigm the “Certainty Imperative.” I trace the Imperative to decisions rendered in the wake of the economic instability of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I find that the paradigm continues to dominate finance and lending jurisprudence to this day. In fact, it has been bolstered by state and federal statutes that further constrain judicial decision-making in the corporate financing realm.
Ostensibly a creature of neoclassical economic theory, the Imperative infuses the specific goal of stability in financial markets into the broader and more deeply entrenched normative theme of legal certainty. The Imperative is rooted in the belief that financial markets are vital to the national interest, and that judges ought to decide cases in this realm in a manner that advances broad economic efficiency goals. What is more, the Imperative reflects the neoclassical conviction that markets are inherently stable in the absence of governmental intervention (including via judicial decision).
Imperative-abiding courts invoke forceful language, expressing fear that a decision might “throw credit markets into confusion and destabilize this area of law,” Smith v. Anderson, 801 F.2d 661, 665 (4th Cir. 1986), or “disrupt orderly credit markets.” Algemene Bank Nederland v. Hallwood Indus., 133 B.R. 176, 180-81 (W.D. Pa. 1991). The Fourth Circuit went so far as to suggest a slippery slope, whereby a ruling adverse to the expectations of lenders might send tremors through the industry, causing “untold and unknown consequences that cannot now be fully foreseen,” “undefinable instability” and even “widespread confusion.” Cetto v. LaSalle Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 518 F.3d 263, 277 (4th Cir. 2008). Other times, courts express this Imperative in vague terms, as if to imply some universal understanding that markets are profoundly sensitive to judicial decisions that modify existing law. For instance, courts have referred to undefined “ripple effects,” Central Bank of Denver v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, 511 U.S. 164, 189 (1994), and the simply-stated policy concern: “credit markets may be affected.” In re Fracasso, 210 B.R. 221, 228 (Bankr. D. Mass. 1997).
Generally focused on the needs of financial institutions rather than borrowers, the Imperative promotes bright-line rules that provide “all prospective lenders the certainty that is so important to the effective operation of markets,” In re Bulson, 327 B.R. 830, 845 (Bankr. W.D. Mich. 2005), or that deliver “guiding principle[s] for those whose daily activities must be limited and instructed” by laws governing commercial transactions. Dirks v. S.E.C., 463 U.S. 646, 664 (1983). The theme is often invoked as a rationale for maintaining the legal status quo, as courts lament a seemingly inequitable outcome under current law, but decline to engage in legal reform out of concern that any deviation from the expectations of lenders might disrupt financial markets.
When we consider this judicial narrative in its historical context, the Imperative seems not to be a reasoned legal philosophy, but rather a consequence of a shaken economy and a loose synthesis of emerging academic theories that seemed to offer new direction for maintaining financial market stability.
In my opinion, if courts are to assume a meaningful role in financial law reform, the Imperative must be confronted and overcome. The dominant paradigm heavily privileges the legal status quo, and its methodological constraints are a paralyzing force on the judiciary. The Article provides an in-depth critique of the Imperative’s strict interpretive norms, and suggests several possibilities for expanding the scope of judicial inquiries in the corporate financing realm.
I welcome your comments, questions and reactions!
Alas, this is the last post of my guest blogging stint here at the Glom. Thanks again for an informative and transformative 2-week set of experiences and memories.
I second Erik's post about law schools fostering humility. Eric poses these 2 fundamental questions:
1. Can one be both ambitious and humble?
2. Can law schools both inspire to dream large dreams -- personal and social -- while still warning about our own fallibility and the limitations of law?
I believe and hope that the answer to both of Eric's questions is yes.
1) Ambition is a great motivator for action, but unless ambition is accompanied with humility ambition often leads to arrogance, conceit, and hubris. A consequence of ambition often is great power and as is often quoted, "with great power comes great responsibility."
2) Not only law schools, but also such other professional schools as those for business, medicine, and public policy can and should "both inspire to dream large dreams -- personal and social -- while still warning about our own fallibility and the limitations of" the profession for which they are preparing their students to enter.
I will be teaching Legal Ethics and Professionalism for the first time next semester and have decided after detailed consideration of the many books and supplements from Aspen, Foundation, and Lexis to adopt these 3 books:
a) Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder, The Happy Lawyer: Making A Good Life in the Law (2010), ISBN: 978-0195392326. This book is just a wonderful source for law students and lawyers about recent scholarship about happiness and how to balance professional work and personal life. More generally, the book helps readers think about and find meaning in their quest for a satisfying career in the law.
b) Scott L. Rogers, Mindfulness for Law Students: Using the Power of Mindfulness to Achieve Balance and Success in Law School (2009), ISBN: 978-0977345519. This little paperback is another great resource for law students to help them integrate mindfulness into their busy and stressful lives.
Leonard Riskin, the Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law at the University of Florida, who currently is visiting at Northwestern law school, has been a long-time pioneer in championing the benefits of practicing mindfulness to law and mediation:
3) Michael C. Ross, Ethics and Integrity in Law and Business: Avoiding "Club Fed" (2011), ISBN: 978-1422479704. This paperback textbook succeeds at being a delightfully engaging, fresh, funny, and practical take on the professional responsibility course, which is often required in law school. This book contains many relevant quotes from authors, economists, humorists, judges, philosophers, and scientists. It also has wonderfully on point cartoons and comics from the Wall Street Journal and P. C. Vey, among others.
This book imparts much pragmatic wisdom about how to choose ethical behavior during tough economic times.
Not surprisingly to readers of Glom who have read my posts about business movies, I also plan to show film and television show clips in class to provoke discussion about violations of ethical rules and what sort of lawyers and values are possible and which of those possibilities are likely to lead to personal happiness and professional satisfaction. For example, three recent television programs that raise issues related to professional ethics and personal values are these:
I close this post and my guest blogging by providing the opening two paragraphs from a just completed manuscript, Tiger Cub Strikes Back: Memoirs of an Ex-Child Prodigy About Parenting and Legal Education. This working paper is related to many of the issues and themes I've raised in the 10 posts during this 2-week guest blogging opportunity. And yes, the first paragraph may seem to be immodest and ironic after discussing the importance of humility. The reason to include that paragraph in this post is that everything in that paragraph is true and verifiably so. Also, this post advocates true humility and not false humility. It would be an exercise in false humility to hide or deprecate my own past for the mere sake of appearing humble.
I believe that Amy Chua, tiger mom and Yale law professor, would see my life as exemplifying successful tiger parenting. I am an American born Chinese, who at age 14 enrolled as a freshman at Princeton University and 3 years later at age 17 after being a University Scholar there graduated Phi Beta Kappa earning an A.B. in mathematics. I also earned a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Harvard University and a J.D. from Stanford University (after having been a 1L at the University of Chicago). My Ph.D. thesis advisor was 1972 economics Nobel Laureate and mathematical economic theorist, Kenneth Joseph Arrow. After serving as an economist in the Division of Consumer Protection in the Bureau of Economics of the Federal Trade Commission, I taught in economics departments from coast to coast, including at Stanford University, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of California Los Angeles; in the finance department of the A.B. Freeman business school at Tulane University; and in law schools at Yale University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, University of Minnesota, and University of Southern California. I co-authored a law school course book about law and popular culture, while a member of the Institute for Advanced Study School of Social Science, during its psychology and economics thematic focus academic year. I am currently a professor and the inaugural DeMuth Chair at the University of Colorado School of Law after having been a professor and the inaugural Kohn Chair at Temple University law school.
This Essay reflects upon the desirability, efficacy, and motivational consequences of having a tiger mom such as Professor Chua or my own immigrant mother, who is a New York University medical school biochemistry professor. This Essay also points out many similarities between mainstream modern American legal education and tiger parenting, including their common hierarchical, top-down learning environments that entail authority, compliance, extrinsic incentives, fear, memorization, obedience, paternalism, precedent, and respect for one’s elders. The educational methodologies and philosophies of tiger parenting and the prevailing orthodoxy of United States legal instruction, especially the substantive content of the standard first year law school curriculum, explicitly and implicitly privilege a type of information processing known as system two over a type of information processing known as system one. System two reasoning is analytical, cognitive, conscious, controlled, deliberative, effortful, logical, rule-based, and slow; while system one is affective, associative, automatic, fast, habitual, heuristic-based, holistic, intuitive, and unconscious. Ironically, the Socratic method of legal instruction often places a premium on answering a professor’s questions aggressively, quickly, or superficially instead of deeply, mindfully, or thoughtfully.
I highlight some additional benefits to lawyers from paying attention to and learning more about emotions by recommending these five items to read.
First, the weekly faculty colloquium here yesterday was an intriguing talk by University of Wyoming College of Law Professor Michael R. Smith, who presented his work-in-progress titled, The Sociological and Cognitive Dimensions of Policy-Based Persuasion. Here is his summary of it:
Arguments based on public policy are critical to legal advocates, especially when they are arguing to a court on an issue of first impression. Interestingly, however, very little serious literature has been produced about the nature of policy arguments and how legal advocates can use them to best effect. This presentation, based on a work-in-progress, will explore the nature of policy-based persuasion in terms of sociology theory and cognitive psychology theory. Based on principles borrowed from these disciplines, the presentation will identify different types of policy arguments and will explore strategies for maximizing the persuasive impact of policy arguments in legal advocacy.
One of his main points was the difference between emotional narratives versus emotional policy arguments. For more related work, see his thoughtful book Advanced Legal Writing: Theories and Strategies in Persuasive Writing:
Second, see this article by Jules Lobel and George Loewenstein titled, Emote Control: The Substitution of Symbol for Substance in Foreign Policy and International Law. As they describe their article in this abstract:
Historical perspectives, as well as recent work in psychology, converge on the conclusion that human behavior is the product of two or more qualitatively different neural processes that operate according to different principles and often clash with one another. We describe a specific 'dual process' perspective that distinguishes between deliberative and emote control of behavior. We use this framework to shed light on a wide range of legal issues involving foreign policy, terrorism, and international law that are difficult to make sense of in terms of the traditional rational choice perspective. We argue that in these areas, the powerful influence of emotions not only on the general public, but on politicians and judicial decision makers, leads to a substitution of symbol for substance that can be seen at two different levels: (1) in the types of situations and stimuli that drive people to action (namely vivid symbols rather than rational arguments), and (2) in the types of actions that people take - specifically symbolic actions that are superficially satisfying as opposed to more substantive actions that are less immediately satisfying but actually more likely to produce desired long-term results.
Third, see this article by Deborah A. Small and Jennifer Lerner titled, Emotional Policy: Personal Sadness and Anger Shape Judgments about a Welfare Case. Here is their abstract of their article:
When making decisions about a welfare case, it is reasonable for one’s thoughts and feelings about the potential welfare recipient to influence the decision. It is less reasonable for one’s “incidental” feelings (e.g., sadness or anger arising from an event in one’s personal life) to influence such decisions. In two studies, however, data reveal that incidental anger and sadness do in fact carry over, shaping welfare policy preferences. Study 1 found that incidental anger decreased the amount of welfare assistance participants recommended providing relative to neutral emotion, whereas sadness increased the amount recommended. Study 2 replicated the results and found that limiting participants’ cognitive resources eliminated the difference between sadness and anger, thus implying that differences in depth-of-thought drove the effects. In sum, the results reveal ways in which: (a) personal emotions carry over to shape preferences for public policies, (b) emotions of the same valence have opposing effects, and (c) differential depth-of-cognitive-processing contributes to such effects.
Fourth, check out an article by Todd D. Peterson and Elizabeth Waters Peterson titled Stemming the Tide of Law Student Depression: What Law Schools Need to Learn from the Science of Positive Psychology explains how to effectively inoculate law students from learned depression by helping them utilize their signature character strengths.
Fifth, there is no better definitive single book about why happiness matters to law students, lawyers, and law firms than one by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder titled The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.
I am grateful for Usha’s latest post about her ambivalence to law and emotions scholarship because it provides an opportunity to engage in extended public discussion about what are some of the legal payoffs to (business) law professors of learning and teaching about emotions in general and happiness in particular.
I concur with Usha that it’s a busy time of the academic year as the semester is coming to a close and many of us will soon be traveling for the holidays (and some of us have traveled to participate in conferences). Of course, most of us feel that we are if not always, then at least constantly busy. In their article titled Idleness Aversion and the Need for Justifiable Busyness, Christopher K. Hsee, Adelle X. Yang, and Liangyan Wang present experimental evdience that busier people self-report being happier. The following is a video short about how the days are long, but the years are short.
I am quite sympathetic to Usha’s opinion that while happiness research is “all fascinating and it shapes my daily choices and reaffirms (or causes me to question) my life choices. Happiness research goes to the core of myself as a person. Still I wonder: what does this have to do with law?” This is partly because her view is one that many people including myself from a couple of years ago share. As Usha pointed out, I’ve already written a number of law review articles and some peer-referred articles about law and emotions including but not limited to happiness. Rather than repeating any of those article’s themes (those interested can find all of them available here), I’ll share five concrete responses to the specific challenge that Usha issued about what are the legal implications of and payoff to emotions and happiness research.
First, much of law concerns and is about human behavior: how to discourage anti-social human behavior and encourage pro-social human behavior. In attempting to change human behavior, law is and must be predicated upon a theory of human behavior. The theory can be Oliver Wendell Holmes’ bad man or neoclassical economics’ much caricatured rational actor. Whatever that underlying theory of human behavior is that law is based upon, that theory must address human JDM (Judgment and Decision Making) because in order for the law to change human behavior the law must change the judgments and/or decisions that humans make. It just so happens there has been a recent flood of research about how emotions in general and happiness in particular influence human JDM. This research is diverse and scattered across many disciplines, including anthropology, economics, finance, neuroscience, marketing, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. Of course, this plethora of non-legal interest and research does not have to mean there are legal implications of new understandings about how emotions and happiness shape human JDM. But at least some law professors can and should read this rapidly growing literature to digest it and see if any of it has legal implications or payoffs. Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Stanford Law School and current President of the William and Flora HEwlett Foundation, Paul Brest teaches a graduate course on JDM at Stanford University. He has co-authored with Professor of Law and Director of the Ulu Lehua Scholars Program at the William S. Richardson School of Law in Honolulu, Hawai'i and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley, Linda Hamilton Krieger a book titled Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Professional Judgment: A Guide for Lawyers amd Policymakers. Chapter 13 of their book analyzes complexities about decision-making including predicting future well-being and Chapter 16 is titled The Role ofAffect In Risky Decisions.
Second, much of business law is premised upon the neoclassical economics model of utility maximization or the behavioral economics challenge to that model. In either case, business law can benefit from recent work on happiness economics because happiness economics raises a more fundamental challenge to and radical critique of neoclassical economics than does behavioral economics. Some view happiness economics as being a proper subset of behavioral economics, while others view happiness economics as being an extension of behavioral economics. In any event, behavioral economics points out that people have bounded rationality, willpower, and self-interest. The theoretical core of behavioral economics is an article titled Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. This is an article which is likely to have been cited more times than it has been read by law professors and certainly more times than it has been understood by law professors as evidenced by overly broad attempted legal applications.
Happiness economics points out how people often systematically make decisions that fail to maximize their experienced happiness ex post as opposed to their anticipated or predicted happiness ex ante. This robust empirical and experimental finding means that at least in principle there is room for some other party, public or private, to help improve (or take advantage of) people’s JDM. In a recent working paper that is a forthcoming article in the American Economic Review, titled What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose?, Daniel Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Miles S. Kimball, and Alex Rees-Jones present survey evidence that although what people choose hypothetically and what they predict would maximize their SWB (Subjective Well-Being) typically coincide, there are systematic reversals. They identify such factors as autonomy, family happiness, predicted sense of purpose, and social status to help account for hypothetical choices while controlling for predicted SWB. Their methodology has a number of possible legal and policy applications, including the development of aggregate measures of happiness. Another example is the application of their approach to reconcile the tension between an empirical finding in the article The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of declining average SWB of American women since the 1970s, both in absolute terms and in relative terms compared to men, with a common intuition that expanded political and economic freedoms for American women have made American women better off. Survey respondents who were asked to rank living in a world with or without such increased political and economic freedoms for women. Significantly more respondents choose to live in a world having expanded political and economic freedoms for women despite believing that a world without such expanded political and economic freedoms would make them happier than the opposite. Their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 16489 titled Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys contains additional examples and more details.
Third, research into two specific emotions, namely fear and greed finds that participants in financial markets are sometimes emotional and sometimes unemotional because they engage in both emotional and unemotional types of mental processing in responding to ever-changing market circumstances. In a series of articles titled,
finance professor Andrew W. Lo posits that many tenets of rational expectations and the so-called efficient markets hypothesis fail to hold always, despite serving as useful benchmarks of what might eventually happen under certain idealized conditions. He speculates that an evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibria involving rare but big environmental shocks resulting in mass extinctions and eruption of new species could apply to financial markets. As Lo points out, law and policy that is based upon assuming rationality or more precisely lack of emotionality is going to be inapt during financial crises. Similarly, law and policy that is based upon assuming emotionality is going to be inapt during financially calm times. His Adaptive Markets Hypothesis implies that effective law and policy should adapt in light of changing financial markets and their participants. Examples of such adaptive business law and policy include:
(1) Countercyclical capital requirements.
(2) Collection, communication, dissemination, publication, and transparency of information about accurate systemic risk measures.
(3) Creation of a Capital Markets Safety Board (CMSB), analogous to the National Transportation Safety Board which conducts an independent investigation of all transportation accidents, in order to perform definitive forensic analysis of past financial crises. The CMSB would be made up of “teams of experienced professionals— forensic accountants, financial engineers from industry and academia, and securities and tax attorneys—that work together on a regular basis to investigate the collapse of every major financial institution.”
As Professor Lo cogently observes,
“The fact that the 2,319-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was signed into law on July 21, 2010—six months before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission submitted its January 27, 2011 report, and well before economists have developed any consensus on the crisis—underscores the relatively minor scientific role that economics has played in responding to the crisis. Imagine the FDA approving a drug before its clinical trials are concluded, or the FAA adopting new regulations in response to an airplane crash before the NTSB has completed its accident investigation.”
Fourth, central to effective JDM is the development and practice of skills related to emotions and emotional intelligence. A number of business trade books and business school courses focus on how managers can improve their emotional intelligence and in so doing become more effective organizational leaders. Law school clinical and negotiation casebooks and courses often discuss the importance of recognizing and responding appropriately to emotions in attorneys, clients, judges, juries, and other legal actors. For example, in their chapter, If I’d Wanted to Teach About Feelings, I Wouldn’t Have Become a Law Professor, Melissa L. Nelken, Andrea Kupfer Schneider, & Jamil Mahuad present concrete tools for teaching law students about the importance of emotions in negotiation. Yet much of current American legal non-clinical education teaches students explicitly and implicitly that lawyering is just about logical analysis and not about feelings. For example, in another article titled The Discourse Beneath: Emotional Epistemology in Legal Deliberation and Negotiation, Erin Ryan writes that "[b]y acknowledging the salience of wise emotionality in individual and collective deliberation, lawyers will not only improve their own personal repertoires, but propel the practice of law, negotiation, and policymaking toward new horizons of efficacy." Similarly, a recent book titled How Leading Lawyers Think: Expert Insights into Judgment and Advocacy by Randall Kiser discusses (at pages 75-85) how important emotional intelligence is to legal practice.
Fifth and finally, law professors can and should incorporate more information about emotions into law school. Many law professors and law students share a common discomfort with and disdain for emotions in part because of what many law students and faculty believe it means to think like a lawyer. For example, see page 422 of the article titled Negotiation and Psychoanalysis: If I’d Wanted to Learn about Feelings, I Wouldn’t Have Gone to Law School by Melissa L. Nelken. In her anthropological study of first–year contracts classes at eight law schools, law professor and senior fellow of the American Bar Foundation Elizabeth Mertz found that being taught to think like a lawyer caused students to lose their sense of self as they develop analytical and emotional detachment, resulting from the discounting of personal moral reasoning and values, as they learn to substitute purely analytical and strategic types of reasoning in place of personal feelings of compassion and empathy.
In fact, empathy is an important skill that lawyers can and should learn. In his article, Thinking Like Nonlawyers: Why Empathy Is a Core Lawyering Skill and Why Legal Education Should Change to Reflect Its Importance, Ian Gallacher analyzes pedagogical implications of lawyers communicating a lot with people who are not lawyers, such as clients, jurors, and witnesses.
In conclusion, a better and more nuanced understanding of what roles emotions generally and happiness particularly can play in human JDM, economic behavior, financial markets, legal practice, and legal education can and should inform how law professors conduct academic research and teach law students.
As promised this post will be about recent proposals advocating that governments adopt various measures of aggregate happiness to complement such traditional measures of economic well-being as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP). The basic premise for these proposals can be found in the first major campaign speech that Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave on March 18, 1968 at the University of Kansas. That speech challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of how governments measure progress and well-being.
Not surprisingly, the speech is right in that many items that are part of GNP do not reflect genuine social progress. To be clear and for the record, most economists themselves have long understood that GDP is an imperfect proxy for social welfare. Such proposed refinements as the idea of Net Economic Welfare (NEW) attempt to improve GDP by placing values upon and subtracting the costs on such negative externalities as crime, congestion, and environmental pollution from GDP. The last paragraph of the speech is what proposed social measures of subjective well-being intend to capture:
"Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
Of course, the claim that GNP "measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans" is a bit overstated. Nonetheless, GNP can be improved to better measure what governments and societies value. There is currently a lively debate over whether and if so, how governments can pragmatically measure aggregate happiness. One reason that such a debate is and will be contested is that once an item is measured and recorded, that item becomes harder to ignore and is likely to become a part of policy discussions. As Kenneth Arrow pointed out on pages 47-48 of his book, The Limits of Organization,
"The Full Employment Act of 1946 amounted to nothing more than a statement that full employment was at last on the Federal agenda, and many felt that this was a hollow victory indeed. But those who opposed it so violently were not deceived; in the long run, this recognition was decisive, though the process of implementing the responsibility was slow indeed. Once an item has arrived on the agenda, it is difficult not to treat it in a somewhat rational manner, if that is at all possible, and almost any considered solution may be better than neglect."
Professors Kahneman and Sugden introduce a methodology of policy evaluation based on experienced utility to environmental economics that avoids well-known problems of preference anomalies for contingent valuation studies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently created a Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, chaired by 2001 Nobel Laureate in economics, Joseph E. Stiglitz. The report by this commission makes a number of recommendations, including “Recommendation 10: Measures of both objective and subjective well-being provide key information about people’s quality of life. Statistical offices should incorporate questions to capture people’s life evaluations, hedonic experiences and priorities in their own survey." In a discussion paper titled Beyond GDP and Back: What is the Value-Added by Additional Components of Welfare Measurement, economists Sonja C. Kassenboehmer and Christoph M. Schmidt analyze quality-of-life indicators that are suggested in the Stiglitz Report to find that much of the variation in many well-being measures is already well-captured by such traditional economic indicators as GDP and the unemployment rate, but because the correlation of alternative indicators with monetary measures is far from perfect, there is room to augment traditional statistical reporting by non-standard indicators.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced similar plans to collect national well-being measures that incorporate life satisfaction. In an article titled Emotional Prosperity and the Stiglitz Commission, British economist Andrew Oswald argues that countries are capable of and should measure their emotional prosperity and focus on mental well-being. In that article, Oswald summarizes seven studies that suggest emotional prosperity and broad measures of psychological well-being have recently been declining over time. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper titled, Beyond GDP? Welfare across Countries and Time, American economists Charles I. Jones and Peter J. Klenow propose a simple summary statistic for a country’s flow of well-being that combines data about consumption, inequality, leisure, and mortality.
In an article titled Happiness and Public Choice, European economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer caution that a policy of maximizing aggregate happiness faces a number of difficulties including that it reduces people to being merely happiness metric stations in addition to discounts problems with political institutions and incentive distortion. In their article, they instead propose two practical ways to utilize happiness research for policy: (1) facilitate identification of those institutions that assist people in best achieving their personal goals and in so doing contributing maximally to individual happiness, and (2) provide crucial information as inputs to political discussion process.
Instead of maximizing a measure of aggregate happiness, it might be more politically feasible to minimize a measure of aggregate misery, stress, or unhappiness, such as the U-index, which in their article titled Recent Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being, Daniel Kahneman and labor economist Alan Krueger proposed and defined to measure the fraction of time that people spend experiencing unpleasant emotions. The U-index provides empirical information about negative emotional experiences that society may care about.
Another way to incorporate happiness data into policy analysis is to introduce maximum levels of a measure of unhappiness or minimum levels of a measure of happiness as constraints that government policies must satisfy while optimizing some objective function or goal besides happiness or unhappiness. This approach is analogous to philosopher Robert Nozick’s approach in his book titled Anarchy, State, and Utopia to incorporating rights as constraints that are not to be violated as opposed to rights as part of a policy goal to be optimized.
In her article titled Happiness on the Political Agenda? PROS and CONS, philosopher Valérie De Prycker argues that actual incorporation of happiness research into policy implicates a number of value-loaded ethical, ideological, and moral issues. But, in his article titled Greater Happiness for a Greater Number Is that Possible and Desirable?, sociologist Ruut Veenhoven believes that empirical research about life satisfaction refutes all theoretical philosophical objections against the greatest happiness principle. In yet a third article titled Greater Happiness for a Greater Number: Some Non-controversial Options for Governments, social scientist Jan C. Ott believes that governments can increase average happiness, eventually reduce happiness inequalities, and realize both purposively by non-controversial means. In another article titled Good Governance and Happiness in Nations: Technical Quality Precedes Democracy and Quality Beats Size, Professor Ott examines how quality of governance and in particular technical as opposed to democratic quality is correlated with average happiness of a country's citizens and finds that technically good governance appears to be a universal condition for happiness independent of culture. Once technical quality of governance reaches a minimum level, democratic quality of governance adds substantially to the positive effects of technical quality of governance upon average happiness.
In his chapter titled That Which Makes Life Worthwhile in the book Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations: National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being, behavioral economist George Lowenstein proposes that time-use surveys ask people not just about how much positive and negative affect is felt during a particular activity, but also if people believed that a particular activity was a valuable or worthwhile use of their time or instead a waste of their time. In their article titled Accounting for the Richness of Daily Activities, psychologist Mathew P. White and economist Paul Dolan ask people not just about how they felt during a particular activity, but also six additional questions about such non-hedonic aspects of experience as being engaged, focused, and finding meaning. These fundamental insights about how people care about not just positive affect, but also meaning in their lives raise questions about whether law and policy should care more about positive affect versus meaning in people’s lives.
In the article titled The Metrics of Subjective Wellbeing: Cardinality, Neutrality and Additivity, Australian economist Ingebjørg Kristoffersen provides a legitimate source of uneasiness about basing social policies upon aggregation of empirical happiness data via his quantitative analysis of certain mathematical properties of empirical happiness data that continue to remain contentious among economists, namely additivity, cardinality, and neutrality of such data, even though psychologists have to some degree already been able to address how to make international, interpersonal, and intertemporal comparisons of happiness data. This mathematical analysis also serves to provide a cautionary, persuasive critique of recent proposals by law professors for governments to eschew cost-benefit analysis and instead to determine and evaluate policy based upon aggregation of happiness, defined simply as experienced positive feeling.
Finally, a concern with experienced subjective well-being captured by self-reports of happiness is what economist Carol Graham terms a paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires, due to differences in anticipations or expectations between poor and rich people. As Graham notes, optimism among poor individuals can be a tool for their survival and parents who are poor may revise their own personal expectations downward but maintain hopeful expectations for their children. If peasants report being happy due to lowered expectations and (perhaps some) hedonic adaptation, while millionaires report misery due to envy towards even richer people and (perhaps unrealistic) expectations, should law and policy be more concerned over self-reported unhappiness of rich people, or about increasing self-reported happiness of poor folks, even if that means encouraging or nudging poor individuals to expect more of their future?
Except for Arizona and Hawaii, the United States ended this calendar's observance of Daylight Saving Time at 2 a.m. local time today. In a fascinating book titled A Time for Every Purpose: Law and the Balance of Life, Harvard University Byrne Professor of Administrative Law Todd D. Rakoff argues that social regulation of time can and should create more room for people to balance time at work with time away from work.
In the article Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight-Savings Anomaly, three financial economists document that in international financial markets, the average Friday-to-Monday return on daylight-savings weekends is much lower than expected, with a magnitude 200 to 500 percent larger than the average negative return for other weekends of the year. This finding is consistent with psychological research about how changes in sleep patterns have impacts on accidents, anxiety, decision-making, judgment, reaction time, and problem solving. In this article Winter Blues: A SAD Stock Market Cycle, financial economists found that the lack of sunlight during winter months tends to depress stock prices across international markets. More recently, the article This is Your Portfolio on Winter: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Risk Aversion in Financial Decision Making reported that people with SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder) exhibited financial risk aversion that varied across seasons because of their seasonally changing affect. SAD-sufferers had much stronger preferences for safe choices during winter than non-SAD-sufferers, and SAD-sufferers did not differ from non-SAD-sufferers during summer.
In two articles, The Psychophysiology of Real-Time Financial Risk Processing and Fear and Greed in Financial Markets: An Online Clinical Study, Andrew Lo and co-authors find traders who respond with too little or too much emotion tend to be less profitable than traders with middle of the range types of emotional responses. Another article Endogenous Steroids and Financial Risk Taking on a London Trading Floor documents that traders tend to make more money on days when their testosterone levels are higher than average.
All of the above differing strands of empirical research share in common the finding that emotions play important roles in how people arrive at financial judgments and financial decisions. Of course, even just a moment of introspection is enough for us to realize that we are like other people in making emotional judgments and emotional decisions. In the article Who's Afraid of Law and Emotions?, the Herma Hill Kay Distinguished Professor of Law at Boalt Hall Kathryn Abrams and Southestern law school professor Hila Keren analyze the ambivalent reactions by mainstream legal academics to law and emotions scholarship and conclude that part of the reason for such responses is the persistence of rationalist tendencies within the legal academy.
I have often heard after making a presentation about emotions in financial markets and regulation the view that emotions could matter in non-financial areas of life and law, but emotions in general and happiness in particular are not what business and business law are and should be about. Such a point of view strikes as being wrong and closed-minded. As economist Andrew J. Oswald cogently observes in the opening paragraphs of his article Happiness and Economic Performance:
"Economic performance is not intrinsically interesting. No-one is concerned in a genuine sense about the level of gross national product last year or about next year's exchange rate. People have no innate interest in the money supply, inflation, growth, inequality, unemployment, and the rest. The stolid greyness of the business pages of our newspapers seems to mirror the fact that economic numbers matter only indirectly.
The relevance of economic performance is that it may be a means to an end. That end is not the consumption of beefburgers, nor the accumulation of television sets, nor the vanquishing of some high level of interest rates, but rather the enrichment of mankind's feeling of well-being. Economic things matter only in so far as they make people happier."
I will expand in a later post on decisions to measure happiness by an increasing number of governments of countries, states, and cities as diverse as Bhutan, England, Guandong province in China, Maryland, and Somerville in Massachusetts. For now, check out:
Finally, Glom readers may find this five-day free virtual event of interest: The Enlightened Business Summit which takes place this week November 7-11 and is hosted by Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre, a two-time TED Speaker, and author of the book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow and the forthcoming book Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success:
I am happy to recommend a new blog Brazen And Tenured - Law Politics Nature and Culture from two of my colleagues: Pierre Schlag, Byron White Professor of Constitutional Law, and Sarah Krakoff, Wolf-Nichol Fellow. Pierre's research interests include constitutional law, jurisprudence, legal philosophy, and tort law. Pierre wrote an essay, The Faculty Workshop, which examines how the institution of law school faculty workshops expresses, regulates, and reproduces legal academic behavior, governance, hierarchy, norms, and thought. Sarah's research interests include civil procedure; Indian law, and natural resources law. Sarah is working on a book about the different stages of humans' relationship to nature, which extends her book chapter, Parenting the Planet.
As Pierre described their blog, it's quite idiosyncratic as far as blogs are concerned. That having been said, Glom readers are likely to find their blog to be amusing, informative, and thought-provoking. Here are the two most recent examples.
Pierre's post entitled Tips for Legal Commentators: How to Talk to the Press is a delightful compendium of speaking points. It explains why the legal talking heads who come out of the woodwork to appear on television during any high-profile trial or other legal event always seem to say the same things with a high noise to signal ratio. My personal expeirence when speaking to print media financial journalists about securities fraud, materiality, derivatives, and Goldman Sachs is there is a very high probability (equal to one minus epsilon, where epsilon is a very small positive number) that I'll be misquoted to have said exactly the opposite of what I actually said! Pierre's advice for speaking to journalists has the virtue that it has the property of being subject matter and position invariant. In other words, no matter what legal topic and what viewpoint you have, Pierre's suggested sound bites will apply. Because they are universal and timeless, these quotes have the added virtue of making you sound profound and wise. Finally, these sample responses to media questions are brief, intuitive, memorable, and predictable. Once you deploy one, there is likely to be repeat demand for your expertise. On the other hand, if you do not enjoy being a talking head, then do the opposite of what Pierre recommends to ensure that reporters will not seek you out.
Sarah's post entitled The Economy versus the Environment? Not! (Or Why to Be Tigger Instead of Eeyore this Halloween) is a welcome reminder for both economists and environmentalists that being offered a choice between the economy and the environment is a false dichotomy that privileges a myopic time horizon and local opposed to global perspectives. Her post also nicely dovetails the small but growing literature applying empirical happiness research to support sustainable environmental policy. For example, Daniel A. Farber recently posted a working paper entitled Law, Sustainability, and the Pursuit of Happiness, which demonstrates that sustainability for society and the pursuit of individual happiness do not have to be at odds.
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Outrage over Bank of America's proposal to charge a monthly fee for debit cards has not abated, even though the bank has backed down on making the change. A social media protest to encourage customers to move funds from Bank of America (and other national banks) to credit unions has gained steam. Organizers have named tomorrow, November 5th, "Dump Your Bank Day" (evidently, the "V is for Vendetta" film has staying power and revived popular American interest in Guy Fawkes).
This raises two empirical questions. First, do credit unions treat their customers any better? A great recent paper by Ryan Bubb (NYU Law) and Alex Kaufman both suggests that they do and explains why. The paper provides both a model and empirical evidence that explain how the ownership structure of credit unions reduces the incentive for these lenders to extract hidden fees from their customers compared to for-profit, shareholder-owned banks. (Note that this paper was written long before the "Dump Your Bank" protest started and does not endorse this movement). Here is the abstract:
In this paper we show how ownership of the firm by its customers, as well as nonprofit status, can prevent the firm from exploiting consumer biases. By eliminating an outside residual claimant with control over the firm, these alternatives to investor ownership reduce the incentive of the firm to offer contractual terms that exploit the mistakes consumers make. However, customers who are unaware of their problems making good decisions, and consequent vulnerability to exploitation, may fail to recognize this advantage of non-investor-owned firms and instead continue to patronize investor-owned firms. We present evidence from the consumer financial services market that supports our theory. Comparing contract terms, we find that mutually owned firms offer lower penalties, such as default interest rates, and higher up-front prices, such as introductory interest rates, than do investor-owned firms. However, consumers most vulnerable to these penalties are no more likely to use mutually owned firms.
Ryan presented the paper at a workshop here in Colorado over the summer. One of the questions I had then was why credit unions can't win customers by sending a credible signal that, to put it colloquially, "we'll screw you less." This Bank of America episode provides an interesting answer that perhaps customers are starting to recognize hidden fees and market choices.
A second question is whether this protest will hurt Bank of America and other national banks? There are historical antecedents for this movement. In the 1960s, protestors tried to start bank runs with calls for depositors to withdraw all funds from banks and then re-deposit them. I'm not aware that any banks suffered as a result.
There is a possibility that this current protest may actually help banks somewhat. There have been plenty of news stories of banks complaining about excess deposits. Some banks have mulled charging fees for large corporate customers and large deposits. Still, I would be surprised if BofA welcomed this protest, just as I would be surprised if the protest inflicted more than p.r. damage on BofA.