Economics and Law in the Progressive Era

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The first systematic American effort to develop an interdisciplinary economic approach to law occurred during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Interest in law and economics was closely identified with economic institutionalism, which more mainstream economists came to reject in favor of more abstract but also more rigorous models that saw legal institutions as less distinctive. Unlike the post-1960s law and economics movement, this earlier movement was critical of the common law and strongly preferred legislative approaches to most legal problems. Implicit in the views of its practitioners was that markets work poorly and that they are very different from one another, requiring different and market-specific fixes. Further, the practitioners were strongly committed to the view that welfare and productivity would increase as wealth was more evenly distributed.


Progressive Era, institutionism, legislation, common law, Law and economics

Publication Title

The Opening of American Law: Neoclassical Legal Thought, 1870-1970