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by Michael D. Murray


The Great Recession of 2008 and onward has drawn attention to the American economic and financial system, and has cast a critical spotlight on the theories, policies, and assumptions of the modern, neoclassical school of law and economics—often labeled the "Chicago School"—because this school of legal economic thought has had great influence on the American economy and financial system. The Chicago School's positions on deregulation and the limitation or elimination of oversight and government restraints on stock markets, derivative markets, and other financial practices are the result of decades of neoclassical economic assumptions regarding the efficiency of unregulated markets, the near-religious-like devotion to a hyper-simplified conception of rationality and self-interest with regard to the persons and institutions participating in the financial system, and a conception of laws and government policies as incentives and costs in a manner that excludes the actual conditions and complications of reality.

This Article joins the critical conversation on the Great Recession and the role of law and economics in this crisis by examining neoclassical and contemporary law and economics from the perspective of legal rhetoric. Law and economics has developed into a school of contemporary legal rhetoric that provides topics of invention and arrangement and tropes of style to test and improve general legal discourse in areas beyond the economic analysis of law. The rhetorical canons of law and economics—mathematical and scientific methods of analysis and demonstration; the characterization of legal phenomena as incentives and costs; the rhetorical economic concept of efficiency; and rational choice theory as corrected by modern behavioral social sciences, cognitive studies, and brain science—make law and economics a persuasive method of legal analysis and a powerful school of contemporary legal rhetoric, if used in the right hands.

My Article is the first to examine the prescriptive implications of the rhetoric of law and economics for general legal discourse as opposed to examining the benefits and limitations of the economic analysis of law itself. This Article advances the conversation in two areas: first, as to the study and understanding of the persuasiveness of law and economics, particularly because that persuasiveness has played a role in influencing American economic and financial policy leading up to the Great Recession; and second, as to the study and understanding of the use of economic topics of invention and arrangement and tropes of style in general legal discourse when evaluated in comparison to the other schools of classical and contemporary legal rhetoric. I examine each of the rhetorical canons of law and economics and explain how each can be used to create meaning, inspire imagination, and improve the persuasiveness of legal discourse in every area of law. My conclusion is that the rhetorical canons of law and economics can be used to create meaning and inspire imagination in legal discourse beyond the economic analysis of law, but the canons are tools that only are as good as the user, and can be corrupted in ways that helped to bring about the current economic crisis.

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