Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code is organized around the absolute priority rule. This rule mandates the rank‐ordering of claims. If one creditor has priority over another, this creditor must be paid in full before the junior creditor receives anything. Many have suggested various modifications to the absolute priority rule. The reasons vary and range from ensuring proper incentives to protecting nonadjusting creditors. The rule itself, however, remains the common starting place.
This Article uses relative priority, an entirely different priority system that flourished until the late 1930s, to show that using absolute priority even as a point of departure is suspect. Much of the complexity and virtually all of the stress points of modern Chapter 11 arise from the uneasy fit between its starting place (absolute instead of relative priority) and its procedure (negotiation in the shadow of a judicial valuation instead of a market sale). These forces are leading to the emergence of a hybrid system of priority that may be more efficient than one centered around absolute priority.