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June 12, 2006

Comments

Mike Huben

That's an old one that's been around a long time.

Here's some more libertarian humor.

James

M. Huben,

Nice page. My favorite was this bit of statist trickery. When you make accusations of "propaganda" and "framing," so regularly, it's nice to see that you don't have any objection to outright trickery.

Mike Huben

A trick that reveals erroneous reasoning in an embarassing way can be a good thing. A form of Socratic learning.

My favorite is to go to a restaurant with a libertarian, and bring up social contract. Almost inevitably, they go on about how they never signed a social contract, and thus are not obligated to pay taxes. Then I point out how they never signed a contract with the restaurant: are they free then to walk out without paying? The looks on their faces are priceless.

The problems with propaganda and framing are that they enourage erroneous reasoning. These tricks reveal erroneous reasoning. What do you have against that, James, except your own particular vulnerability?

James

Mike,

Re: restaurants, I don't think the analogy works.

For small purchases, unwritten or understood contracts make good cost/benefit sense. Documenting a $10 charge for a meal is costly compared to the benefit of having specific documentation. As the dollar amount gets bigger, this makes less and less sense.

E.g. suppose I send you a bill listing a consulting fee of $10,000 for our exchanges here. I suppose that you probably wouldn't pay. If I were to turn around and sue you for nonpayment of a contractually obligated debt, do you think you should be able to use the fact that we had no signed contract in your defense?

More generally, do you think that establishing that no contract was ever formed should be a sufficient defense against charges of violating a contract? If not, I'll be sending you that bill. If so, what would be sufficient to falsify the claim that a social contract exists?

It seems to me that unsigned contracts don't work so well if the contract creates large obligations for either party. It makes the presumption of innocence too hard to practice in a contract dispute. I wonder, how would you assign the burden of proof to the accuser? What would be a sufficient standard of evidence to prevent barratry?

"What do you have against that, James, except your own particular vulnerability?"

I object to trickery because it is a deliberate form of deception. I'm not intersted in discussing biographical information about unimportant people such as myself, put please refrain from begging the question in a way that assumes I have some vulnerability.

Mike Huben

James: you haven't stated whether you accept the "no signed contract, thus no social contract" argument. If you don't, you have good sense and the analogy doesn't work for you.

As for documenting $10 meals, there are usually two documents. The order, and the receipt. I don't think you're qualified to judge when documentation is too expensive.

Large unsigned obligations are common: all they require is a standard of proof of agreement and an economic means of enforcement. Just yesterday I had $342 worth of auto repairs without a signed contract.

James

Huben,

"James: you haven't stated whether you accept the "no signed contract, thus no social contract" argument. If you don't, you have good sense and the analogy doesn't work for you."

As it happens, I wouldn't make exactly that argument. From the most charitable perspective, it might be an good argument with an unstated premise or three.

Rather, I'd argue (among other things) that in cases where A accuses B of violating a contract, B's denying that a contract was mutually agreed to should be a sufficient defense until the accuser provides evidence of both parties agreeing to a contract. And the standard of evidence should be sufficiently high to discourage barratry, implying that the greater the obligation, the higher the standard of proof should be. For obligations at least as great as those which, say, a $50,000 mortgage contract creates, I don't think anything short of signed promissory agreements with witnesses' signatures would be an adequate standard of evidence.

There are still other problems with the version of social contract theory you are appealing to, but this is JM's site, and we're far from the topic, so I'll cut it short.

Swimmy

My favorite line on the Libertarian Humor page Mike linked is in "Libertarianism in One Lesson":

"Better to abolish all regulations, consider everything as property, and solve all controversy by civil lawsuit over damages. The US doesn't have enough lawyers, and people who can't afford to invest many thousands of dollars in lawsuits should shut up."

The funny part being that lawyers are so expensive precisely because they're regulated. Mandatory requirements for law school education and bar exams severely restrict output and increase costs.

Mike Huben

You think so Swimmy? Have you ever looked at the average incomes of lawyers? They're not very high. There's a huge oversupply: many of them go into other fields. I've known several.

 dragonball gold

The funny part being that lawyers are so expensive precisely because they're regulated. Mandatory requirements for law school education and bar exams severely restrict output and increase costs.

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