James Heckman as a 'Law and Society' Scholar: An Appreciation

Peter Siegelman, University of Connecticut School of Law


James Heckman was the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Economics. This short paper reviews the methodological and substantive contributions Heckman has made to the empirical study of law. Heckman's work is shown to be important because he has developed techniques to address fundamental problems such as how to separate law as "cause" and as "effect." His work on selected or choice-based sampling has applications to almost every problem empirical researchers confront, since the sample we can actually observe is almost never randomly drawn from some larger population as classical statistical theory assumes. Substantively, his work on the effects of civil rights laws, job training programs, and other legal interventions in labor markets has profound implications for how we understand law's power to alter economic relationships. His critique of experimental approaches to studying social behavior has commonalities with "interpretivist" criticism of positivist social science.