Friday, April 08, 2011

Are ANY and ALL contracts valid?

I ponder this due to, once again, "Bubble Theory".

If a person thinks they have no choice but to agree to something that they know isn't right and that will harm them, is their agreement really consensual? Can a property owner make any demands they want and expect compliance? Can you really consent to being attacked or abdicating (or negotiating away) your rights?

I see parallels in the debate over "intellectual property" and in a post I read about sweatshops.


  1. wow. ive got to get my head round your bubble theory - sounds really interesting. i will delve into your linked explanations with great interest.
    ive had similar disputes over the theory of property recently with both anarchists and statists. mostly regarding land. ive got contacts who follow Proudhon and others who are statist advocates of Georgism. debating with these two groups who both hold land as a common resource has really forced me to reexamine the nature of exclusive property.

    on the validity of contracts - ive recently read spooner's critique of the US constitution from a contractual position, also Kinsella's against IP which similarly challenges the inalienability of aspects of human nature and thus any contracts that attempt to alienate and trade those aspects. i recently stumbled upon this on wiki
    which raises the idea that an employment contract cannot alienate individual responsibility for both inputs and outputs. so no collective liability and no divorce of profit from labour?

  2. a libertarian far brighter than myself recently posted on the 'unrealness' of property and contract in response to a common objection to anarchy -
    "“ownership” is just an idea in people’s heads. Correct. It’s not “real.” Just like language and numbers and logic and morals are not “real.” it’s true that we have no epistemic means to ascertain metaphysical law that tells me what you “should” own or what property norms should be or what the correct spelling of a word is or whatever. Ownership is (epistemologically) an intersubjective consensus, just like language … and logic and law and all morality and any standards for truth."

    objectors to anarchism tend to raise this lack of absolute guarantee as if that exists under the current coercive paradigm. id add contract into this unreal category. whatever promises i make they do not become immutable laws of physics.
    there can never be perfect absolute guarantees of property or contract and both anti-anarchists and anarchists should have the humility to admit this.

  3. To my mind, contracts ought to be constructed to be self-enforcing-otherwise they necessitate government interaction.....meaning that such a contract is never reaaaly "private".

  4. Agreed. "If you do this, I will do this."

  5. Common law holds that contracts signed under duress are invalid. Similarly, one-sided contracts.

    Common law is, as usual, correct. The question is how far you can generalize 'duress.'

    You only have one right; the right to have your property respected. If you tried to negotiate that away, you'd no longer have it and it would invalidate the negotiation - and then it would revert to you.

    Also, 'isn't right' - if it's not right, that means it conflicts with existing property and is an attempt at coercion. So, no. 'Will harm' is fuzzier.

    You can't consent to being attacked because consent makes it not an attack. If you take my house - is it theft or a sale? Well, depends on whether I consented first.

    I was thinking about authority and kings. If the king in fact owns the land, and says 'jump,' then yeah the correct answer is, 'how high?'

    Except...when you entered the kingdom, it was perfectly reasonable for you to expect the king wouldn't say such a thing. As much as explicit contracts are better...we can't make them all explicit. This one was implicit. Simply put, if you'd known ahead of time the king might do that, then you wouldn't have come.

    I think a free-market security force would have provisions for these situations.

    If it were my security firm, the provision would be, "If the owner asks of you something beyond the pale, then you have the right to leave the property rather than obey." To revert the arrival decision based on new information, basically. The issue is that you can't stay and vandalize the property, nor can you leave and still have any obligation toward the owner.

  6. Will- for some reason your comments ended up in a spam folder I didn't even know existed. I just now found them and approved them. My apologies!