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social policy


The essential elements of a wide range of social policies can be described in terms of responses to three basic questions. First, what burdens must the innocent carry? Second, what burdens must the blameworthy bear? And third, how does society assess blame? This Essay examines the increasingly successful efforts of a faction of social conservatives, called here the new moralizers, to reshape the resolution of each of these three issues and with them a wide range of social policies. Although the relative importance of these three questions has varied over time, the twentieth century saw a movement away from costly individualized adjudications of fault and toward efficiency as a guiding principle of law-making. Over the past decade, the new moralizers have sought to reverse this trend selectively, transforming law and social policy to increase reliance on individual assessments of virtue in place of rules of broad application. The new moralizers have imposed a range of per se rules that stigmatize and restrict unpopular groups without individualized findings of fault, while requiring individualized determinations of blameworthiness before restricting members of elites. Most remarkably, they have sought to create conditions in which providing less protection to the concededly innocent appears a moral imperative. The new moralizers’ implicit assumptions about human nature are strikingly inconsistent with those of the law and economics movement, but they have received inadvertent aid from liberals. This Essay concludes that technical arguments cannot meet this agenda’s considerable populist appeal. Its excesses, however, can be exposed and contained.


Law and Economics | Law and Society