Ronald Coase and Vito Corleone

The Godfather premiered fifty years ago in March of 1972. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the wide domestic release of this classic film, I just posted an essay to SSRN titled “Coase and the Corleones“. By way of background, one of the most influential ideas in legal, moral, and political philosophy is John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, i.e. the notion that people should be free to do or say whatever they wish unless their actions or words cause harm to somebody else. The work of Ronald Coase, however, shows us why the harm principle is logically incoherent. Aside from the difficulty of defining what counts as a harm, the main problem with the harm principle is that harms are often reciprocal in nature. That is, most harms are, logically speaking, either the direct or indirect result of both the wrongdoer’s and the victim’s decisions. In my Godfather paper (see here), I illustrate this counter-intuitive Coasean picture of harms using three memorable examples from the famous wedding scene in original Godfather movie.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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7 Responses to Ronald Coase and Vito Corleone

  1. Pingback: Pop Law | prior probability

  2. Interesting paper. I was thinking for moment that Sonny was partly culpable for the incident with the photographer. After all, if you don’t want trouble you shouldn’t participate in criminal activities.

    In theory, we could stretch out the chain of events in assigning blame Ad infinitum.

    Considering we live in an imperfect world, I believe your conclusion sums it up best; the best we can do is attempting to avoid precarious situations.

    “… Because instead of trying to draw impossible lines between victims and wrongdoers, between justified harms and unjust ones, perhaps we should be doing something else entirely, something more pragmatic and sensible. To the point, we should strive to do what Vito Corleone would do: we should do our best to avoid the greater harm.….” (P.7-8).

    • thanks for reading my stuff (again!); and I agree about the never-ending nature of the chain of events leading up to a harm; in fact, that is one of the main lessons I learned directly from Guido Calabresi when I took his Torts class in the fall of 1990…

      • Interesting. So we do need stare decisis to act as back-stop in Tort claims, otherwise it may be a stalemate.

        Non-lawyer here, so if I screwed anything up there, please let me know.

      • Stare decisis is all about stability, predictability, and protecting “reliance interests”; that’s the main reason why I was conflicted about the Dobbs decision…

      • Excellent point. The issue with Dobbs ( in my uneducated and humble opinion) is that the court was attempting to rule on a previously flawed case; Roe.

        After reading Alito’s leaked draft, I realized that Roe was a last ditch attempt to find anything that would stick. Even honest pro-choice advocates have to agree, Roe was terrible care law. There are few strong refutations that can fill in the gaps.

      • or in the immortal word of Justice Brandeis, “It is better that the law be settled than that it be right.” (or something to that effect)

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