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Water Security, Risk and Society: Oxford Conference Notes

Safety first. (Photo by Peripitus, GNU license)

Last month, I attended the University of Oxford’s first International Water Security Conference. The breadth of presentations, held over three days, made it a challenge to distill a single set of conclusions from the conference. Politicians, scholars, engineers, epidemiologists, climatologists, corporations, NGOs, economists, and lawyers came from six continents to discuss water security, management and conflict from local to global scales.  But everyone seemed to agree to some extent with Peter Gleick’s statement that we “must meet basic human needs . . . and basic ecosystem needs.” As Carl Sagan once put it, “We need the plants much more than they need us.” With this in mind, it seemed that at least four key messages emerged from the conference sessions.

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Reflections on the Dust Bowl

Dust storm in Texas in 1935. What happens when a massive front of denial meets with nature?

I’ve been reading Daniel Worster’s Dust Bowl, a classic on the massive dust storms which hit the Southern Plains in the 1930s. Worster presents the dust bowl as a product of economic and cultural forces as much as a physical phenomenon. His description of the plainsmen’s attitudes and behavior toward the crisis is eerily similar to the responses of some to modern crises. One passage in particular provides a useful description of behavior in prolonged crises:
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Law and Complexity Science

For the last post of the year, I thought I’d make available something that I’ve been playing around with this semester at Sciences Po. After reading some law journal articles analyzing the common law as a complex system, I began to develop this heuristic diagram of the United States federal regulatory apparatus.

References:

J.B. Ruhl. “The Fitness of Law: Using Complexity Theory to Describe the Evolution of Law and Society and Its Practical Meaning for Democracy.” 49 Vand. L. Rev. 1407 (1996).

J.B. Ruhl. “Complexity Theory as a Paradigm for the Dynamical Law-and-Society System: A Wake-Up Call for Legal Reductionism and the Modern Administrative State.” 45 Duke L. J. 5 (1996).

Happy New Year!

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Law as Social Science

There are books, but not all that comprises law is "on them" as you might expect. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license from Alan Shin.

The New York Times editorialized this weekend on the need for reforms to the legal education system–mainly a shift from theoretical to more practical training–while making some uncharacteristically strident pronouncements on the nature of law. Meanwhile, I’ve lately stumbled into one epic discussion after another about whether “science” as a general category includes the social sciences, or whether, as one friend put it, science ! = natural science (meaning science factorial; e.g. 3 ! = 3*2*1 = 6). This is not an opportunity to rehash that grueling debate, which, in any event, is one best had by mediated bodies of actual experts, like the National Academy of Sciences. The debate has been grist, though, for a related set of thoughts drawn from my work as an attorney and extern in several federal courts, as well as from conversations I’ve had with other attorneys with similar backgrounds. These thoughts have mounted toward the conclusion that attorneys and the general public alike would benefit from better understanding law as a social science. Read more

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Why Law School and Bar Exams are Necessary, and why Economists–Ceteris Paribus–Lack an Informed Opinion

Adam Smith: Economics, not Democracy.

Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution, published a nice and neat op-ed today in the New York Times on the economic benefits of wholly deregulating the legal industry in the United States. He offers this economic analysis to conclude, as you might suspect given its title, that the barriers to the practice of law that law schools and bar exams present are not, in fact, necessary. Full disclosure: I am a lawyer, though also have an education in public policy. The gravest trouble with Winton’s argument, and it is deeply troubled, hinges less on policy or the specific characteristics of legal practice than it does on elementary logic. But the whole picture is flawed. It is also flawed given his own professional bias as an economist. Read more

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