This is the first of what will hopefully turn into a series of essays exploring ideas I for improving society through use of technology.
I would like to propose a modification to contract law. Its goal is to even the balance of power in contracts between large corporations and individual citizens. Specifically, it intends to improve the case with credit card and other similar contracts where the bank sends frequent revisions with only "patchs" to the original contract: "section 13a is changed, replace '... a time of not less than thirteen days ...' with ' ... a time of not less than eight days ...'. The only way to know what actual contract you are bound by would be go through a file of all such notices they have ever sent you with the contract in hand and a bunch of white out and sticky notes (or some slightly less messy digital equivalent). I should preface this discussion with the fact that I am not a contract lawyer and do not claim to have any deep understanding of contract law. I would appreciate feedback from anyone who does understand law, or especially contract law, more deeply. The basic idea of the law is very simple:
The intent of this law is to help strengthen on of the core principles of contract law: That that all parties must understand a contract they are signing. It does this in several ways.
I do not think this law change represents any particular expansion of powers of the government. In fact it I think it actually fits well within even a libertarian view of government since it is mainly a clarification of the core government duty of enforcing contracts. In fact, for people who completely distrust the government, it would also be possible for private citizens or foundations to maintain mirrors of the repository. The point is so much that the government have an authoritative copy of the contract, as that an authoritative version exists and is accessible.
I don't think this change would harm anyone except large businesses with consumer contracts. For them, Item 2 is the more significant cost because it will greatly reduce their ability to revise contracts, especially unilaterally. I think this is a worthwhile shift of power towards the consumer, indeed I think the current system where unilateral contract shifts can be forced actually goes against the true spirit of contract law. However, The two sections are severable, and if Item 2 is deemed too onerous, Item 1 could still be implemented. Simply requiring the contracts to be posted in their current form publicity (item 1) would still do a lot of good, and I believe would impose a very minimal cost on businesses. In fact, I would go so far as to say that enacting Item 1 should have a trivial cost on any business which is not attempting use contracts to take unfair advantage of consumers.
Thomas G. Dimiduk (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 24, 2011