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Why the Legal System is Not Necessarily Less Efficient than the Income Tax In Redistributing Income


  • Dan Usher

    () (Queen's University)


A common, though by no means universally-accepted doctrine among practitioners of law and economics is that redistribution is no business of the law. This efficiency-only doctrine is not that redistribution is unworthy as a social objective, but that any given benefit to the poor is attainable at a lower cost to the rich through taxation than through the choice of legal rules. The rationale for the efficiency-only doctrine is that redistributive law creates a double distortion: an initial distortion arising from redistribution pre se, through taxation or through law, and an additional distortion all its own. The efficiency-only doctrine is sometimes valid, but is far narrower than its advocates would seem to suggest, and is inapplicable to most of what is commonly thought of as redistributive law. Redistribution is best supplied by a combination of law and taxation.

Suggested Citation

  • Dan Usher, 2011. "Why the Legal System is Not Necessarily Less Efficient than the Income Tax In Redistributing Income," Working Papers 1210, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:qed:wpaper:1210

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1982. "Perfect Equilibrium in a Bargaining Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(1), pages 97-109, January.
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    5. Nash, John, 1950. "The Bargaining Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 18(2), pages 155-162, April.
    6. Hart, Oliver, 1995. "Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288817.
    7. George L. Priest & Benjamin Klein, 1984. "The Selection of Disputes for Litigation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-56, January.
    8. Dan Usher, 2012. "Bargaining and voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 151(3), pages 739-755, June.
    9. Garfinkel, Michelle R, 1990. "Arming as a Strategic Investment in a Cooperative Equilibrium," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(1), pages 50-68, March.
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    More about this item


    Law; Income Tax; Redistribution;

    JEL classification:

    • K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability; Forensic Economics
    • K34 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Tax Law
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance

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