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Steven George Medema
University of Colorado, Denver (Denver, CO 80202-1702)

Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2011 – 6/30/2013

Legal Fiction: An Intellectual History of the Coase Theorem

I am seeking an NEH Fellowship to support the writing of a book-length intellectual history of the Coase theorem, one of the most important and controversial ideas to emerge in the post-WWII economics literature. The Coase theorem has had a revolutionary impact both on economics, through its implication that markets can resolve externality problems (such as pollution), and on law, particularly through its role in the development of the modern “law and economics” movement. The theorem is a fiction, largely devoid of applicability to the real world, yet became the subject of a raging debate among economists, legal scholars, and others that continues to this day. The theorem's genesis, the five-plus decades of controversy over its correctness and applicability, and the ideologically-charged nature of many aspects of this make the story of the theorem’s diffusion a fascinating moment in the history of ideas and provides interesting insights into the sociology of the economics profession.