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Abolish Enforceable Contracts

You'll have to Deal With People You Can Trust.
  (+9, -15)(+9, -15)
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Consumer choice can be a powerful weapon for change. If contracts were not legally enforceable then people would have to fall back on dealing with people that they can trust, either locals that they know or businesses that have provided good service in the past, rather than rely on the dubious efficacy of legal 'rights'. Businesses would have to concentrate more on keeping their reliable, existing customers/clients rather than putting vast resources into trying to attract new customers. And customers would have to be a bit more savvy about who they deal with, learn a bit more about their subject, as it were. The same principles would apply to employment law and so on.

Obviously, when the change first takes place, a large number of people will become victims of the unscrupulous. But, as time goes on, this should become less of a problem as people are forced to become more knowledgeable and the dodgy dealers' reputations precede them.
DrBob, Jun 19 2001

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       Come back and annotate those fishbones you cowards!
DrBob, Jun 19 2001
  

       Even now, with enforcable contracts, plenty of people successfully rip off others and still stay in business, so I doubt that this idea would really make things better.
PotatoStew, Jun 19 2001
  

       I don't think it counts as WIBNI. For one thing, it really wouldn't be nice. For another, if enough people really wanted this to happen, it could be made to happen. A true WIBNI (IMHO) is something more like faster than light communications, or time travel, something that even if everyone in the world wanted it, it still couldn't be done (at least not with anything resembling present technology).
PotatoStew, Jun 19 2001
  

       What about all the poor, hard-working, decent lawyers this would put on the streets? We must always keep the well-being of our lawyers in mind!   

       [I'm joking, of course, but I gave it a fishbone anyway. It's a nice theory, but just completely impractical. Let's just abolish starvation while we're at it. Contracts came about for a reason; they weren't forced on us to supress the masses.]
smizzou, Jun 20 2001
  

       And look what would happen if contracts between nations were unenforceable--a US president could just go and say, "Oh we're not gonna abide by that ole missile treaty no more, mostly just 'cause I don't wanna" and no one could stop him from doing it! Terrible state of affairs.   

       [And I refuse to annotate my fishbone.]
Dog Ed, Jun 20 2001
  

       Basically what you're calling for is an increase in transaction costs and an additional barrier to market entry. This benefits no one: consumers buy less, and pay more for the goods they do buy; producers lose sales and have to expend more resources on the sales they do make.
bookworm, Jun 20 2001
  

       'OK, [DrBob], now I know you have a contract of employment with us, but...'
Can I fishify you now?
angel, Jun 20 2001
  

       This is one of those ideas that would work if society was on a smaller scale. The large and complex societies we live and work in needs contracts, a process to abitrate them and most of the common infrastructure we have accumilated over time.
Aristotle, Jun 20 2001
  

       I reckon this is similar to what the internet is doing for information: there is every view expressed out there, it's up to every person to decide what they think is trustworthy, rather than relying on a certain guaranteed minimum standard of trustworthiness.
lubbit, Jun 20 2001
  

       Just to clarify, all fishbones are welcome regardless of whether annotated or not. The comment I put up was in response to two fishbones appearing within about 15 seconds of my posting the idea. It seemed to me to be 'knee-jerk fishboning' (can I copyright that phrase?), with barely enough time to read the thing let alone think about it and form an opinion.
DrBob, Jun 21 2001, last modified Oct 05 2001
  

       Abolishing contracts is probably neither desireable nor possible. But a reduction in contractedness would be nice. How many consumer products are there that used to be available with no contractual strings attached, but now are not? I wouldn't mind seeing a reversal of this trend, not that that's realistic.
LoriZ, Oct 16 2001
  

       First, some political perspective. It's interesting that even the most extreme of right-wing libertarians (as opposed to communist libertarians, who I will come to below) believe in the preservation of property rights and contract law; thus this is judged one restriction on freedom that many people are unwilling to give up. Property and contracts are in fact largely connected; since the latter exists only to protect the former, and serves to guarantee the smooth operation of a capitalist society (which as Marx showed is equivalent to any society based on the preservation of private property and the payment of wages).   

       In contrast, a true anarcho-communist society would most likely have neither private property nor legally enforceable contracts. All production would be done on a voluntary basis and all goods used on the basis of need (possibly involving peer pressure or the threat of expulsion to regulate behaviour; these are matters for debate in anarchist literature). This is arguably a WIBNI in a technologically advanced modern society. Although it's worth noting that many "primitive" tribal cultures exist without contract law, private property or paid employment, making decisions by consensus and sharing food.   

       Abolishing contracts without abolishing private property would have a number of odd effects. For instance, the contract that most binds people is with their employer, and without the assurance that one would be paid at the end of the week, the workplace would be more insecure. Yet it could possibly still run to a degree on trust. Another area at risk would be that of credit: money lenders would have no guarantee or recourse to law for recouping their loans.   

       However, the interdependence of worker and employer in modern capitalist society means that such relations could probably continue (much as in societies with little or no employment law; however the effect on the workers would tend to be dire, as in places such as Indonesia, at least when there is a surplus of workers). The main effect would be, as mentioned, on moneylending, which would be much too risky, and on all long-term commercial relationships, which would only be sustained if in the interest on both parties (defined as, if both parties would be worse off in the short term if they left). The losers (certainly until a system of trust could be established) would be both workers and entrepreneurs, which is why the system of contract law has been introduced.   

       However, it is worth noting that there are a number of ways under existing law to have contracts declared null and void, or simply to ignore them, most of which involve large amounts of money and lawyers. Thus without the protection of the state helping the weak (such as statutory rights for consumers), the rich can already to a degree decide whether or not to honour contracts with those poorer than themselves.
pottedstu, Mar 07 2002
  

       //the rich can already to a degree decide whether or not to honour contracts with those poorer than themselves//

This was pretty much the motivation behind my idea, 'stu. The fact is that, unless you've got the time and money to enforce your 'rights', they're not worth the paper that they're written on. In theory, the law of contract treats everyone equally, but the judicial system that has evolved to enforce these laws has become, in many (though not all) cases, prohibitively expensive to many people.
DrBob, Mar 07 2002
  

       I like the sentiment, but can't accept the execution. The idea of returning to pre-agricultural business practices in a post-industrial economy would be disastrous. You can't shake a corporation's hand, and you can't trust its word; they have neither.
dbsousa, Dec 24 2002
  
      
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