The very brilliant Matthew Stephenson has recently published a positive political theory paper on the choice for Congress between delegation to agencies and delegation to courts. He thinks that a rational Congress will delegate decisions to agencies if it wants to create a regime that will be ideologically consistent across issues but variable over time (he studiously avoids examples, but perhaps agricultural subsidies – which could be changed in the future but in the present Congress wants done in a particular way – are the idea). And that Congress will delegate decisions to courts if it wants temporal consistency but ideological variability (perhaps a regulation requiring the alternating, as opposed to direct, current, or maybe rules that affect long-term government contracts, are cases where Congress would roll the dice on the content of the choice – delegate it to the courts – but hope that whatever choice is made becomes a predictable precedent that future courts follow).
The second part of Stephenson’s paper, though, is, quite literally, Greek to me:
Modeling is upon us. You see it in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies – though empiricism is conventionally thought to be a form of social science that might be practiced without sophisticated modeling – and now you see it in the Harvard Law Review. Stephenson develops eight such formulas in the formal proof portion of his piece on legislative delegations.
What is the upside of this sort of modeling for lawyers and political scientists? God knows the latter do plenty of it, but there’s an audience cost – I expect that most of the legal scholars sympathetic to positive political theory apply its insights without even being close to being able to model like McNollgasts can. And I’ve been at conferences where law professors assessed models more with fear and trembling than with confidence in the clarity of the modeled insights. I am, after all, semi-like Stephenson, an eager and promising administrative law scholar [ed. – hoo boy. Might be a good time to disable comments.]. But I doubt that Stephenson was writing part II of his paper for my benefit, or if he was, he certainly won’t enjoy my incisive critique of it – I simply skipped it.
So other than noting, gentle reader, that perhaps you ought to try to learn the basics of modeling if you expect to be reading a lot of legal scholarship in the future, I wonder if I might trouble those of you who do enjoy reading modeling pieces to recommend legal scholarship (I guess I’ll leave economists and mathematicians out for now – I’ll assume without deciding that their modeling presents different concerns than does modeling in public law subjects) in which the thesis was inexpressible without the model. I’d also like advice on meta-scholarship – that is, good resources on how to read models. In short, I’d like to hear advice for a inexperienced consumer of formally modeled scholarship. I suspect you’d be doing more of the Co-Op’s readers a service than you might think.