Thursday, November 7, 2013

Service Contracts

From the local Mad Biologist:
Yes, there are people who will give away their information at the drop of a hat for a ten percent-off coupon. But many of us have no choice in the matter. When you sign the terms of agreement for an internet provider, credit card company, or many other businesses, you are offered a take-it-or-leave-it contract. No negotiation is possible. And these contracts are often for nearly-essential services. Sure, you don’t need a credit card, an internet connection, or an email account, but it’s hard to function in 21st century America without these things.

These are often de facto monopolies (e.g., cable companies), or else you are offered a very limited number of options that really don’t differ that much (e.g., wireless providers). In a common law sense (and the last thirty years of neoliberal and conservative jurisprudence have essentially annihilated the notion of common law), a contract that you can’t negotiate for a service you basically can’t do without isn’t really a contract, it’s extortion. Worse, this unequal (one might use the word servile) relationship is often sanctioned by the government.
 This is a bit strident, but basically correct.  Boilerplate contract that cannot be easily negotiated in individual cases is a nice legal defense but rather misses the point of agreements.  The imbalance in market power is really the problem and the services have become increasingly essential.  Try not having a credit card, a bank account, telephone, or internet access.  People due survive in these circumstances, but the level of cost to avoiding these contracts is high. 

Now when the contract is reasonable that is one thing.  But isn't the idea of a universal reasonable standard of interaction seen elsewhere?  Or was I dreaming during the "government regulations" phase of my education? 

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