Former Summer Institute Scholar Celebrates Coase by Spreading Law and Economics—to Iceland

Over the past five years, the Law School’s Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics has hosted more than 350 international scholars as part of its annual Summer Institute program. The initiative, aimed at kickstarting advanced law and economics programs in academic and legal communities outside the United States, has been training professors, researchers, judges, and deans from every part of the world in the essential methods of economic analysis of law. As envisioned by the program’s creator, Omri Ben-Shahar, the Leo and Eileen Herzel Professor of Law and Kearney Director of the Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics, the graduates of the program have increasingly become leaders in their communities and loyal ambassadors for law and economics.

Just recently, spurred by his experience at the Summer Institute in Law and Economics, the head of an Icelandic government investment corporation, Jón Gunnar Jónsson, established his country’s first law and economics association. The launch of the Icelandic Law & Economics Association (ILEA) on December 29—the birthday of the late Ronald Coase—was the latest in a series of efforts by international scholars to bring the Law School’s signature analysis to their home countries.

The new Icelandic organization will promote the study and application of law and economics by establishing university courses, publishing books and journals, holding conferences, and advising authorities on pressing social matters, said Jónsson, who will serve as ILEA´s first president. Jónsson, who attended the 2015 Summer Institute, also teaches law and economics at the University of Iceland.   

Jónsson said law and economics is gradually taking root in Iceland.

“We had a seminar in law and economics at the Faculty of Law at the University of Iceland in the spring semester of 2015 and 2016, which was extraordinarily well received by students,” he said. “We will now have a full course in law and economics at the Faculty of Economics in the spring of 2017. These initiatives are all ‘firsts’ at the University of Iceland, the country´s oldest.”

The Icelandic activity is not unique.

“The summer program opened a major new portal for the influence of Chicago law and economics," Ben-Shahar said. "Major academic markets that were previously indifferent to this intellectual tradition are now eager to collaborate with us.”  

Indeed, past participants of the summer institute have launched journals and published papers dedicated to law and economics, invited other participants and Law School faculty to speak at academic conferences in their home countries, and developed law-and-economics workshops and courses, all drawing on the knowledge and connections they nurtured in Chicago. Just in the past months, two conferences were organized by past participants in Tokyo, and another will soon take place in Paris. 

“We see a cross-border collaboration—and one that really makes us appreciate even more the methodology of law and economics because even though the field was born in the United States, it can be applied to local issues in other countries,” said Ruoying Chen, ’05 LLM ’10 JSD, a Peking University Law School professor who has worked with Ben-Shahar on the program since it launched in 2012. Chen is currently a visiting professor at the Law School.