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Summary

William Easterly, an ex-World Bank economist and widely respected growth theorist, in recently noting that skilled individuals may elect to pursue occupations that redistribute income rather than enhance growth, referred to ‘the somewhat whimsical piece of evidence … that economies with lots of lawyers grow more slowly than economies with lots of engineers’. The remark alluded to an assertion by the Bush-Quayle camp during the 1992 Presidential campaign that too many lawyers were prejudicial to US economic growth, and sparked a heated debate that was played out in the Wall Street Journal and a number of academic journals at the time. A decade later, Easterly's rejoinder has prompted us to examine the view that occupational capture (the capture of talent by particular occupations) can contribute to economic stagnation, by revisiting the notion of lawyers as negative externalities to the growth process.