Markets and morality

We have been attending the 12th Annual International Conference on Contracts (KCON XII) at Southwestern Law School in downtown Los Angeles this weekend (fun!). One of our favorite talks at the conference was by Nathan Oman, a law professor at the College of William & Mary, who presented his new book The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Moral Foundations of Contract Law (U Chicago Press, 2017). In summary, Professor Oman argues that the main purpose of the law of contracts is to promote commerce and well-functioning markets. Moreover, he claims that markets are morally desirable in and of themselves. Why? Because markets not only promote economic efficiency (i.e. the allocation of assets to their highest valued uses); markets also facilitate social cooperation and communal harmony. Specifically, markets enable people to serve the needs of others and cooperate in mutually beneficial ways even in the absence of political, religious, or ideological agreement. (This last point–the ability of markets to meet human needs and bring diverse and self-interested actors together–deserves more attention in the legal academy.) 

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Bad Promises

We know that a promise to do something illegal (like cooking and distributing meth) is not legally enforceable, but what moral status does such an illegal promise have? We address this question in our work in progress on Immoral Promises, which we are presenting this morning at Southwestern Law School in downtown Los Angeles.

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Gaming the Electoral College

We just attended Professor Mona Field’s guest lecture on “American Presidential Elections” at Glendale Community College (see flyer below). Among other things, Prof. Field talked about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In summary, this novel compact is designed to circumvent the archaic Electoral College system set forth in the Constitution. Specifically, States who join the compact thereby pre-commit to award their respective electoral college votes to the presidential candidate who wins the overall popular vote in all 50 States. Thus far, ten States (and D.C.) have already voted to join the compact, and these States represent 165 Electoral College votes. So, is this novel compact constitutional? Can we change the Constitution without formally amending it?

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What is a light-year?

The journal Nature recently published this letter announcing the exciting discovery of seven exoplanets 40 light-years away from Earth: only 235 trillion miles away! Does this mean it would take us 40 Earth years to reach those planets if we could travel as fast as the speed of light? The infographic below says light-years are a measure of distance, not a measure of time. Bonus question: Why can’t we travel faster than the speed of light, or can we?

Credit: niks1rocks, via SlideShare

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Why is English the official language of Florida?

We totally understand why such insignificant states like Idaho or Nebraska might want to enact such insular and small-minded legislation. But California and Florida …? 

Hat tip (via Reddit): wildeastmofo

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The Snuggies Case

Have you ever seen any of those cheesy infomercials for Snuggies? (Check out the YouTube clip below, if you like to watch low-budget ads. Snuggies are wearable fleece coverings, i.e. blankets with sleeves.) As a matter of tax law, is a Snuggie more like a blanket or more like a garment? (Blankets are subject to a lower import tax than articles of clothing are.) The United States Court of International Trade recently decided this close question, ruling that Snuggies are blankets for import tax purposes. But generally speaking, aside from the authority of legal tribunals, what makes a court decision in a close case “right” as a matter of law? In science, theories are “right” only if they are supported by evidence and if they are subjected to rigorous and repeatable tests. In politics, the majority decides what is “right” via elections and other political mechanisms. So, what makes a legal conclusion or a legal theory “right”, aside from the normative preferences or subjective hunches (i.e. personal views) of judges? Bonus question: What about ethical dilemmas? How should we decide between right and wrong in the domain of ethics?

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Wealth is a value

Legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin once asked, “Is wealth a value?” Isn’t the answer obvious?

Hat tip (via Twitter): @pickover

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