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This essay is the first of a series of three in which Richard Posner and Francesco Parisi trace the forty-year history of the economic analysis of law, a knotty problem for liberal juridical legal thought in the second half of the century. The explanations and suggestions provided by this school of thought are founded essentially on individual rights and choices. The two subsequent essays will be dedicated, respectively, to the economic analysis of private and commercial law and the economic analysis of public and criminal law. This first study reconstructs the origins of the economic analysis of law, the methodology adopted (making the distinction between the positive, normative and functional economic analysis of law), the basic premiss (known as the efficiency hypothesis of common law) and, finally, the approach to the question of sources of law and the relationship between law and State.