Conservative Economics and Optimal Consumer Bankruptcy Policy

Mary Jo Wiggins


In this paper, Professor Wiggins explores the relationship between conservative economic theories and major bankruptcy reforms recently enacted by the United States Congress. First, she describes three key components of conservative economic theory as advanced by the Bush Administration and conservative scholars. These include: (1) a strong preference for private ordering over public ordering, (2) the promotion of private property as a means to expand personal freedom and liberty, and (3) the encouragement of individual risk internalization. Next, she describes two theoretical components of the new bankruptcy reforms. These include: (1) a preference for creditor collection over debt relief and (2) the promotion of individual risk internalization. Then Professor Wiggins examines two questions: First, is there meaningful theoretical symmetry between conservative economics and the new bankruptcy law? Second, is there significant operational symmetry between the two? The paper suggests theoretical convergence for two reasons: First, both conservative economics and the new bankruptcy law aim to promote private bargains over administratively adjusted ones. Second, both seek to force individuals to absorb more of the risks of financial decision-making. The paper suggests, however, that at the operational level there exists significant divergence between the aims of conservative economics and the predicted consequences of the new law. Professor Wiggins concludes, among other things, that economic conservatives should pay more rigorous attention to personal bankruptcy policy because operational asymmetry between their theories and the new legislation could blunt their ambitious economic agenda for American consumers.

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