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University of Chicago Law Review


This Article evaluates international law from a welfarist perspective. Global welfarism requires that international law advance the well-being of everyone in the world, and scholars influenced by global welfarism and similar cosmopolitan principles have advocated radical restructuring of international law. But global welfarism is subject to several constraints; including (1) heterogeneity of preferences of the world population, which produces the state system; (2) agency costs, which produce imperfect governments; and (3) the problem of collective action. These constraints place limits on what policies motivated by global welfarism can achieve and explain some broad features of international law that otherwise remain puzzling. These features include the central place of state sovereignty in international law despite the moral arbitrariness of borders; the weakness of multilateral treaties; the limited role of individual liability in international law; the predominantly legislative nature of international institutions and the weakness of executive and judicial institutions; and the absence of redistributive obligations in international law. These constraints also suggest that the rapid increase in the number of states over the past half century may be related to the advance of international law.

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