Autonomy and private ordering in contract law

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This essay reviews Michael J. Trebilcock's book, The Limits of Freedom of Contract (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), examining crucial and controversial social issues within the rigorous framework of the law and economics of contract. The idea that private markets are the primary institutions for the allocation of limited resources is central to any private ordering model of contract law. Yet such a premise leaves a number of fundamental questions unanswered. Trebilcock is critical of the insufficiency and ambiguity of current contract theory in addressing fundamental legal issues relating to the limits of freedom of contract. Pushing the frontiers of current legal theory, Trebilcock revisits the slippery notion of freedom of contract and tests the actual reach of economic analysis in providing a coherent answer to compelling social questions. The author pursues his ambitious task by examining the conclusions reached by competing paradigms of analysis. In spite of his declared trust in the economic approach to law, Trebilcock pays close attention to alternative analytical traditions, comparing the conclusions of various intellectual perspectives with those suggested by an economic framework of private ordering. The book objectively examines strengths and weaknesses of competing views, affording the reader a balanced position from which to conclude for herself, by illustrating the practical implications of the various approaches. In a number of instances, Trebilcock shows how different theoretical premises may indeed be conducive to similar institutional outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-227
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Law and Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 1994


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