Saul Levmore, “What Do Lawmakers Do?”

Lawmakers respond to constituents, seek higher office, have lofty goals, and even learn from their mistakes. But do they actually make the world a better place? In this lecture, the first of this year’s Chicago’s Best Ideas series, Professor Levmore examines some aspects of lawmaking that do not make their way into the law school curriculum. First, lawmakers may be forward-looking, but they have tools that are backward looking, or retroactive, and this combination can help us understand why some lawmaking is quite durable, while some of it falls apart both physically (like crumbling bridges) and conceptually (like conventional views about sex and marriage). Second, lawmakers might be rewarded when they innovate successfully, but they are penalized harshly for making changes that backfire. This trade-off helps us understand where we do or do not observe experiments and progress, ranging from Uber to health-care.

Saul Levmore is the William B. Graham Distinguished Service Professor of Law.

This Chicago’s Best Ideas lecture was recorded on October 13, 2015.