Between the 19th and the 20th centuries, the ideas, of self-execution, decentralization and competition in the economy, that would permit legal establishments to function as apolitical, impartial and neutral in regards to just distribution of resources, led to the prevalence of economics during the period known as the gilded age.
The society had different groups of people who could be classified based on property ownership financial might and professional skills. These determinants influenced the level of social power among individuals. Those who possessed these qualities seemed to influence decision-makers to rule to their advantage. In turn, the less privileged were discriminated and prejudiced by unjust rulings that were solely influenced by their inferiority in the society. As a result, the classical legal thought that was introduced in the late 19th century, campaigned for decentralization, competition and self-execution in a free market economy. It identified that these three factors would create equal opportunities for all individuals. However, it also recognized the existence and importance of inequality among individuals. It noted that the society was diverse and unequal, and it would have been unjust to discriminate against those who belonged to a higher societal class simply because of the wealth they possessed.
The classical legal thought encouraged all legal establishments to operate as apolitical, neutral and impartial arbitration institutions. These three legal fundamentals ensured that legal institutions created equal opportunities for all individuals to participate in competitive processes. Apart from creating a competitive environment, classical legal thought, also known as the ‘will theory,’ noted that organized inequality in the society was just. This is because unequal abilities possessed by different people in the society enabled them to contribute differently towards the competitive market. It is therefore important to note that impartial, political and neutral arbitration prevented legal institutions from subverting themselves by interfering with societal inequalities.
It might be argued that the success of individuals is not only driven by their superior abilities but also by the availability of equal opportunities. A competitive market is one of the factors that promoted the creation of equal opportunities in the market economy. The level of competition among economic agents in an economy influenced their actions in terms of the pricing and delivery of goods and services. Markets with well-developed structures enabled buyers to acquire goods and services at a much lower cost. Furthermore, they had access to higher quality commodities. This is because producers, retailers and seller aimed at gaining competitive advantage by producing and delivering cheaper and more superior quality products and services. In addition to benefiting consumers, sellers also gained from the existence of a capitalist economy that eliminated several barriers to entry and trade. According to Lenin, “democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich: this is the democratism of capitalist society,” (1). As a result, the capitalist society provided equal opportunity for all individuals regardless of their wealth, race or ethnic group.
Economic decentralization was targeted at reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. Unorganized inequality contributed to economic and financial instability. Wealthy people in the community and politicians used their money and societal power to sway decisions to their advantage. This is because decision-making was entrusted on the hands of the few. In the event that the leaders’ actions are influenced by greed, they made decisions and instituted policies that might have favored their interests rather than those of the general society. Economic decentralization empowered their all individuals to contribute towards decision making of issues that were directly linked to them. It promoted transparency, participation, accountability and communication since it brought the government closer to its people. Furthermore, economic decentralization limited the opportunities for individualism and corruption. Greater decentralization promoted the transfer of communal resources from the richer to poorer areas. However, it faced significant challenges such as impunity. Rousseau states that, “as soon as men began to value one another, and the idea of consideration had got a footing in the mind, every one put in his claim to it, and it became impossible to refuse it to any with impunity,” (1).
In regards to self-execution, the ‘will theory’ advocated for the ‘invincible hand’ of the government. Being a capitalist economy, there was very little involvement of the government in matters that were related to financial activities. Actions by economic agents were guided by market forces. Prices of goods and services were determined by market demand and supply. The government’s main role was to formulate fiscal and monetary polices that regulated the quantity and circulation of money within the economy. Self-execution led to the automation of the economy. Competitive forces, automatically determine the prices, quality and quantity of goods services that were transacted within the economy. Furthermore, with less involvement of politicians and other richer individuals in the decision-making process, economic evils such as corruption and self-centeredness were drastically reduced.
The creation of a competitive, self-executing and decentralized market economy shaped the role of the American legal bar, their interpretation of the law, and relationship between the law and the general society. Plato described a judge, as ‘the person is, who, in the first place, knows the laws’ (1). Judges had to familiarize themselves with the constitution to enable them make wise decisions. This led to the formation of an impartial, apolitical and neutral judicial system that was entrusted with conducting just arbitration. In many cases, politicians aimed at using their power to influence the decisions made by judges. Classical legal thought encouraged the bar to practice liberty and refrain from making unjust rulings to secure favors from politicians. According to Mill, liberty “meant protection against the tyranny of the political rulers,” (1). An apolitical judicial system also discouraged economic malpractices such as corruption in government institutions. This is because independence of the judiciary empowered judges to uphold justice and make unbiased judgments.
Furthermore, classical legal thought promoted an impartial judicial system during the gilded age. The rich and other influential people in the society used their resources and financial might to influence judgments. An impartial judicial system empowered judges to make unbiased, just and fair decisions. Their decisions were guided by the law and not swayed by personal or external parties. Finally, the judiciary also aimed at becoming a neutral institution. Despite their emotional, political, ethical or racial affiliation, the judges were determined to adhere to their law and provide unbiased verdicts. A neutral, apolitical and impartial judiciary created a sound economic environment. Economic activities were regulated by the established legal system and all agents refrained from engaging in illegalities and malpractices. Locke states that, “established laws of liberty to secured protection and encouragement to the honest industry of mankind, against the oppression of power and narrowness of party,” (1).
Lenin, Vladimir. “What is to be Done.” Ed. Bill Davies. The Western World (2010): 463-466. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Constitution Society, 04 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Mill, John. On Liberty. Constitution Society, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Plato. Apology. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
Rousseau, Jean. Discourse on Inequality. Modern History Sourcebook, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
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