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Faculty Spotlight: Professor Leo Katz’s Why the Law Is So Perverse

September 26, 2011

In Why the Law Is So Perverse, Leo Katz, Frank Carano Professor of Law, examines four fundamental features of the legal system, all of which seem to not make sense on some level and to demand explanation. Katz asserts that these perversions arise out of a cluster of logical difficulties related to multicriterial decision making. Professor Katz sat down with Penn Law’s Communications Department to talk more about his book.



I’m Leo Katz. I am a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The title of my book is Why the Law Is So Perverse.

Why the Law is So Perverse: Leo KatzThe book tries to explain four questions. First, why does the law spurn? Why does the law ban win-win transactions – arrangements that would be beneficial all around? That’s the first question it addresses. The second, why is the law so replete with loopholes? They’re everywhere, you can’t seem to root them out, we don’t like them. And yet, there they are. The third question is why is the law so rigid? Why is it either/or? Why is everything the contract or not the contract? The defendant is either guilty or not guilty. Often we think that an in-between verdict would be better, but the law doesn’t give in-between verdicts. And finally, why is the law so reluctant to punish a lot of stuff that we actually harshly condemn, are strongly disapproving of — ingratitude being the extreme example?

Well, what the book does is to link up these paradoxes of social choice theory, these perversities of social choice theories with the perversities of the law. Turns out that there is an intimate, but easily overlooked, connection. That in some sense, most of the things that strike us as strange or paradoxical or illogical or perverse about the law are just reincarnations of these strange, illogical features, surprising features that we find in voting rules. And what the book tries to do is uncover what the logical perversity that is well understood from the voting rules context is that underlies the perversity that we find in the law.

The conclusion that drives one to about the law is admittedly a somewhat pessimistic one. It’s that the things that disturb us the most about the law are probably not things that we can eradicate. What the study of, what the exploration of the connection between the paradoxes of social choice and the perversities of law tries to do is to show why that is.