Chicago's Best Ideas: Coase, Voting Rights, and Tolerance Beyond Religion

Chicago’s Best Ideas, a popular lunchtime lecture series in which faculty present their current work, kicked off autumn quarter with three presentations. As usual, the topics were as interesting as they were diverse.

Saul Levmore, “Coase’s Legacy,” October 22:

Levmore opened the CBI year with a tribute to Coase, who died on September 2. Levmore describes what was “probably Chicago’s biggest and best idea ever,” the Coase Theorem, which states that in a world where there are no transaction costs, an efficient outcome will occur regardless of the initial allocation of rights. Levmore talked about why the theorem was so startling in its early years, and spoke at length about its present-day legacy. He also touched on capitalism in China, the subject of Coase’s last book.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, “The South After Shelby County,” November 13:

Stephanopoulos talked about the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which dismantled Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 had barred southern jurisdictions from changing their election laws unless they first received federal approval, and its absence raised the question of what will happen to minority representation in the South. Stephanopoulos explored the differences between Section 5 and another part of the Act, Section 2, which continues to apply nationwide. His sobering conclusion is that Section 2 provides substantially less protection with respect to both redistricting and franchise restrictions. The demise of Section 5 is therefore likely to reverse decades of progress for voting rights in the South.

Brian Leiter, “Why Tolerate Religion?” November 19:

Leiter asked why religious obligations that conflict with the law are given special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not. He arged that there is no good reason for this distinction, and that the reasons for tolerating religion can apply to all claims of conscience. He also argued that a government committed to liberty of conscience is not required by the principal of toleration to grant burden-shifting exemptions to laws that promote the general welfare. Leiter is the author of a 2012 book of the same name.

Four CBIs are planned for winter quarter. They will be presented by Professors Martha Nussbaum, Emily Buss, David Strauss, and in a joint presentation by Professors Tom Ginsburg, Jonathan Masur, and Richard McAdams.