Norms and Law: Putting the Horse Before the Cart


Law and society scholars have long been fascinated with the interplay of formal legal and informal extralegal procedures. Unfortunately, the fascination has been accompanied by imprecision, and scholars have conceptually conflated two very different mechanisms that extralegally resolve disputes. One set of mechanisms might be described as the shadow of the law, made famous by seminal works by Professors Stewart Macaulay and Marc Galanter, in which social coercion and custom have force because formal legal rights are credible and reasonably defined. The other set of mechanisms, recently explored by economic historians and legal institutionalists, might be described as order without law, borrowing from Professor Robert Ellickson\u27s famous work.1 In this second mechanism, extralegal mechanisms—whether organized shunning, violence, or social disdain—replace legal coercion to bring social order and are an alternative to, not an extension of, formal legal sanctions. One victim of conflating these mechanisms has been our understanding of industry-wide systems of private law and private adjudication, or private legal systems. Recent examinations of private legal systems have chiefly understood those systems as efforts to economize on litigation and dispute-resolution costs, but private legal systems are better understood as mechanisms that economize on enforcement costs. This is not a small mischaracterization. Instead, it reveals a deep misunderstanding of when and why private enforcement systems arise in a modern economy. This Essay provides a taxonomy for the various mechanisms of private ordering. These assorted mechanisms, despite their important differences, have been conflated in large part because there has been a poor understanding of the particular institutional efficiencies and costs of the alternative systems. Specifically, enforcement costs have often been inadequately distinguished from procedural or disputeresolution costs, and this imprecision has produced theories that inaccurately predict when private ordering will thrive and when the costs of private ordering overwhelm corresponding efficiencies. The implications for institutional theory are significant, as confusion in the literature has led to overappreciation of private ordering, underappreciation of social institutions, and Panglossian attitudes toward both lawlessness and legal development

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