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Public Law & Legal Theory


Successful investments often reflect insight, implementation, and good fortune. In Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons1 (written in 1918, adapted by Orson Welles in a celebrated 1942 film, and recently rediscovered and scheduled for release with material that had been removed over Welles’ objection), horses give way to the automobile and the characters’ fortunes rise and fall as the world changes with the advent of this new technology. Meanwhile, the decision to marry, like one to enter other partnerships, also depends on insight, effort, and good fortune. I aim to show these parallel themes in the novel. The argument developed here is that lawmakers have the same difficulties, or ambitions, as do investors in business and marriage. They must try to predict the future. Judges and legislators, like investors, need insight and skill but there is also some luck involved in making good law. Lawmaking is itself an investment process. A good example is found lurking in the novel; the growth of the suburbs—and the decline of the Ambersons’ magnificence—depended in some part on the liability rules attached to automobiles.



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