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Should courts always enforce what contracting parties write?

  • Luca Anderlini
  • Leonardo Felli
  • Andrew Postlewaite

We find an economic rationale for the common sense answer to the question in our title — courts should not always enforce what the contracting parties write. We describe and analyze a contractual environment that allows a role for an active court. An active court can improve on the outcome that the parties would achieve without it. The institutional role of the court is to maximize the parties’ welfare under a veil of ignorance. We study a buyer-seller multiple-widget model with risk-neutral agents, asymmetric information and ex-ante investments. The court must decide when to uphold a contract and when to void it. The parties know their private information at the time of contracting, and this drives a wedge between ex-ante and interim-efficient contracts. In particular, if the court enforces all contracts, pooling obtains in equilibrium. By voiding some contracts the court is able to induce them to separate, and hence improve ex-ante welfare. In some cases, an ambiguous court that voids and upholds both with positive probability may be able to increase welfare even further.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/4677/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 4677.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:4677
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE Library Portugal Street London, WC2A 2HD, U.K.
Phone: +44 (020) 7405 7686
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/

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  7. Andrew Postlewaite, 2007. "Courts of Law and Unforeseen Contingencies," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(3), pages 662-684, October.
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