Some Thoughts on Scalia’s Comment About the Supply of Lawyers

Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy discusses Justice Scalia’s comments that many of our best and brightest minds end up wasted in the practice of law. Somin notes one serious argument against this claim, specifically that high prices for legal services are indicative of the high demand for those services. I think that there are two things that need to be added: first, as a tangent, that Say’s Law applies here (supply creates its own demand) and second, that the market for legal services is huge and the market clearing price for legal services is often way to high for many consumers. This interview with Jay Moses of the Center for American Progress details some elements of the supply and demand for legal services amongst the poor; this article in McClatchy details, among other things, an 11 million jump in the number of people eligible for free legal services since 2007. And this piece of advocacy from Diller and Savner is rich in detailing the extent of current legal services. Diller and Savner interestingly suggest that subsidizing legal aid for the poor also increases the quality of democratic representation, since it reduces the search and transfer costs of information about that sector of the population, allowing politicians to be more informed about the policy preferences and needs of their constituency. In shorter, more precise language one could say that subsidizing legal services for low-income users has positive informational externalities that increase the quality of democratic government (a public good).

But the second half of Somin’s argument is all too true: we have way too many laws. I recall a statistic (in a Krugman editorial perhaps?) noting that the massive body of federal criminal law implies that over half the population are de facto felons. Certainly the most egregious example is the terminally useless War on Drugs but there are far more insidious examples; there are plenty of excessively broad laws and regulations that felonize trivial things like failing to appropriately label chemicals or animal parts.

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3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Scalia’s Comment About the Supply of Lawyers

  1. Michael B says:

    Very interesting – As far as having too many laws, which I am inclined to believe is true, I’m uncertain that there are many negative repercussions stemming from that claim. For instance, in the war on drugs it would be equally possible to have one very broad law specifying the criminal conduct and punishment which (if it were a “median” of all of the drug laws) would almost certainly be more harmful. Furthermore, on the idea that drug laws, failing to label appropriately, and such means that most people are de facto felons, so much of the time those laws are not enforced; either because of the logistical difficulties or because the enforcement agencies exercise discretion in determining who to “bust”. I think the biggest problem stemming from having too many laws is that it is more difficult for the layman to figure out, on their own, what is illegal – the reverse of positive informational externalities.

    Lastly, part of the reason why lawyers are so expensive has little to do with supply and demand. Rather, the cost of educating someone about a complex subject matter is so high that, in order to pay off debt from that education, attorneys must in turn charge more. Ironically, since people who graduate form law school are less likely to take a lower paying job teaching, the cost of education is further driven up.

  2. Espy Morrel says:

    Michael B,

    You may be missing something concerning the frivolous amount of laws associated with the failed “War” On Drugs. Law has fallen from a much more consistent point of objectivity to an arbitrary, inconsistent, egregious, colorable, some would say admiralty-maritime jurisdiction where native rights are suspended because of highly flexible statutory decrees. Seeing that we have a monopoly system that forbids any education on the law, tax code, banking system, etc in our formidable education years, it seems (and in my opinion, there is) a fraud being perpetrated against gullible, mostly innocent, unwitting victims of these oppressive laws, laws that disproportionately turn many colored people into privatized prisons, where banking institutions are trading in prisoner bonds. Slavery has not dissipated; instead it has assumed a new character under the fraudulent War On Drugs; a war that is so hypocritical on its face as there is ever-compounding evidence that agencies in the US government have a hand in trafficking drugs, siphoning them into poor communities and also wield the magic pen to legislate into existence oppressive drug laws to keep privatized prisons warehoused.

    Not only that, those who are concerned about “Bills Of Rights”, what I like to refer to as the “Bills Of Concession”, might be curious as to how every single one of those supposed rights are overruled by the arbitrary statutes associated with “drug” policy. Anthony Gregory runs down the list here: Even still, those Rights cannot be guaranteed as the Constitution is an unenforceable contract, and it has proven time and time again that Contract Law supersedes any supposed rights associated with the Constitution (federal or state; see Armen Condo letter). This was further legitimated when all areas of law (civil, criminal, equity, admiralty) were codified into the Uniform Commercial Code adopted by every state in the Union. Before this, it would have been impossible to prosecute such exorbitant drug laws under the tenets of a Common Law jurisdiction where there is no sworn complainant. These laughable laws would be pushed aside due to “corpus delecti”, lack of an injured party. (yes, I am aware they prohibited alcohol for a time but that is no indication of its lawfulness as no written decree is indicative of its lawfulness). Now, we have a twilight zone in which the State can bring a case against a drug user/pusher and judge its own case. Conflict of interest much? Does the representative of the State (i.e. prosecutor) ever take the stand, under penalty of perjury, to testify to the damages a cannabis smoker has caused it? (“it” being the fictional entity known as the STATE OF “SUCH AND SUCH”)

    Lastly, I would say that the ubiquitous amount of lawyers in the West have nothing to do with supply and demand principles or the millions of statutes and laws on record. Rather, another angle might be how the Uniform Commercial Code has turned paper idols into negotiable, commercial instruments. According UCC, any instrument a person attaches their signature to can have commercial value. The types of bonds (Acceptance, Bid, Performance, Payment, etc) all have monetary value attached to them. Some say that the value associated with felons is around a million dollars though this information is difficult to access, as it is a protection racket much like the Federal Reserve who staunchly oppose opening their books for audit. These bonds are said to be underwritten, insured and reinsured by Indemnity and Reinsurance companies and sold into the open market like typical stocks and bonds. If there is substance to this, it may well explain why there is a copious amount of lawyers in America and also shed light on why the so-called freest nation in the world has the largest prison population.

    Espy Morrel

  3. Espy Morrel says:

    Posted the wrong Anthony Gregory link. Here is the correct one: (although the other one equally shows the similarities of how other supposed “wars” on insentient verbs have proven to be such valiant successes for freedom and liberty)

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