Two Questions About Libertarianism

  1. Are inter-generational contracts enforceable? For example, if I agree that my family will sell your family water for 100 years at the market rate, can this contract be enforced against my children?

  2. What kind of penalties can be built into contracts? Only money damages?

[Perhaps these questions betray a misunderstanding of some more fundamental premise, because I’m assuming there is some law of contracts which is enforced by a minimal state. Please correct my fundamental premise if it is mistaken.]

I don’t think this has anything to do with ‘libertarianism’. I think it’s more a matter of basic contract law in the United States, which has a long history and many precedents.

I don’t get it. What does this have to do with Libertarianism? Please explain.

Registered Libertarian (I think, I haven’t looked lately)

Let us distinguish Libertarians as a political party from Libertarianism as a political philosophy. The former seek policies which marginally push toward the ideals of the latter. (In theory, though obviously Barr is a bit of an exception.) This is a simple question about the latter, the political philosophy.

As IdahoMauleMan points out, these questions do indeed have answers under US contract law. So is that the end of the inquiry? Libertarians would keep US contract law as it is in the ideal Libertarian world?

I’ll bite. I’m a Republican, but I consider myself to have very libertarian leanings.

I would answer no to the first question, and “only money damages” to the second. I can’t imagine even the hardest of hard core libertarians saying otherwise…

I’m not sure what you mean about keeping contract law ‘as it is’. Do you mean the philosophy? The process of appointing judges? The system of checks and balances?

Contract law is constantly evolving, based upon precedents, higher-court review, and lots of other things. At one point in time the only folks who had legal standing before a court were white males. Thankfully, that has changed. Accepted intellectual property protections such as the kind we have today in software, biotech and the arts, didn’t even exist a few decades back. It changes all the time.

I guess I’m a little lost as to what you’re getting at. Are you trying to find a ‘gotcha’ where you can trap a libertarian into saying he would allow children to be sold into slavery, or could sell his wife’s kidneys by getting her to sign a contract when she’s drunk?

That’s the usual line of debate on this Board, unfortunately. Please tell me you have something more intelligent in mind.

So what about contracts for things that cannot be measured in money (unique property, idiosyncratic valuations, personal dignity, etc.)?

I’m talking about substance, not process (though I am curious about the latter–does the judicial system remain functionally the same?). But a whole lot of present contract law is contingent upon other parts of society being essentially as they are. So I assumed that if society underwent the transformation necessary to make a Libertarian society, contract law might change as well.

No, these are sincere questions. I am curious about the answers for their own sake. And also because I’m trying to figure out what prevents communities from voluntarily creating agreements that are functionally identical to coercive government–hence my interest in how contracts are enforced and upon whom they are enforceable.

Unless some fundamentalist Libertarians won the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court, yeah. Contrary to popular belief, voting for a 3rd party will not invalidate 230+ years of precedent or whatchacall it.

Water law in Colorado (and some other western states) is not to be trifled with.

(eta - not saying Colorado water law has 200something years of precedent, US law is what I meant. The CO thing was a nod to the OP question #1)

Er…please refer to the opening sentence of post 4. I’m asking about the ideal state.

You’d need to somehow incorporate your family so it would be a legal person seperate from it’s individual members (eg. The Parker Family Watersellers Co.). Your individual family members wouldn’t be liable for breach of contract, but TPFWC would and it’s property could be seized for pay a judgement. Corporations never die; they are immortal.

In the case of the children being responsible for water rights, I can offer a guess. If the children assume the ownership of the asset (e.g. land) upon their parents’ death, then I guess they have to assume the inherent liabilities.

They don’t have to take ownership of the asset if it comes encumbered with liabilities that they don’t want. Sort of like how they don’t have to take a house, or car, with an outstanding loan just because their parents bequeathed it to them in their will (without their approval). Unless they signed a contract as consenting adults to do so before their parents’ death.

At least, that has been the case in the states where I have been involved in contract disputes.

There are few judges in America who make headlines by sentencing town drunks, or vandals, to sit in town squares and the like on Saturday afternoons. I know that some of these are overturned on appeal. But I think in 99+% of contract disputes the resolution is in money or payment-in-kind of other assets that have a marketable value. Occassionally when items of sentimental value are involved (family pictures, antiques) a judge can order that party A take possession, sometimes netted back against a monetary sum to another party B.

Yes, upon reflection the water example wasn’t very carefully considered.

Let’s take out the family element. What about a homeowner’s agreement requiring that every occupant in the neighborhood volunteer one weekend a year to serve as firefighters? Or, a homeowner’s agreement stipulating that no one in the neighborhood may own a gun. Could these be enforced by injunctions in Libertania (assuming one is free to move from the neighborhood)?

I see what you’re getting at now.

So, for example, if you buy a house in a subdivision that requires you to volunteer one weekend a year, and when your weekend comes up you say “No Thanks, I think I’ll watch the Cubs instead”.

Then what happens? Can they compel you to volunteer, using bodily harm as a threat if necessary?

Is that your question?

Yes. But let’s take it in both steps. First, can they force me to pay to hire someone to fill my spot? Second, can they force me to choose between doing the job or leaving the community?

Well, Idahoman is right, but I assumed your question to be like if my Dad was in the water providing business and signed this contract, and I decided that I never wanted a part of the business, never owned it, never worked there, I left town and wanted to drink cheap whiskey and chase loose women for a living.

Then these people were suing me for my vast wealth because I wasn’t providing them with the water my Dad promised.

I would again answer no and no. Libertarianism does not equal anarchy in my view. There is still underlying law and an underlying government that prevents egregious abuses from dominant parties against others…

So they can’t hold me to a simple contract? What makes this contract different from an employment contract?

A threat of bodily harm in an employment contract?

Well, all law is eventually enforced by threat of bodily harm, no? If they enter a monetary judgment against me and I refuse to give up the gold I stored in my mattress, they’ll have to come in and take it somehow (or send me to debtor’s prison or however it works in Libertania).

I’ll offer a guess. But it’s not in the hypothetical Libertopia. I don’t know where that is.

It’s in the real world, where this sort of stuff happens all of the time. And with a reasonable minimum of government influence. So it’s probably not a bad approximation of what most libertarians would settle for, if they could move the needle on American government in the right direction.

You have breached a contract. You haven’t said whether you have admitted that or not, or how willing you are to contest it, or whether you are willing to go to arbitration. I’ll assume for the moment that you aren’t contesting it, and you’re sitting on your front porch, cleaning your shotgun saying ‘Come and get me, suckas’ to your neighbors.

First, I don’t think any Libertarian would ever argue that a citizen has the right to use force to compel another citizen to do anything, regardless of what a written contract says. There are basic rights enshrined in the Constitution that are not trumped by private party contracts. If the expectation was otherwise in the mind of either party when they entered into the contract, they were either naive or stupid.

Writing good contracts is as much a part of effective transactions in a libertarian society as theoretical (and potentially comic-book) remedies of relief such as ‘forcing someone to volunteer’. An intelligent homeowner’s association contract would spell out remedies for relief if you decide not to volunteer.

The homeowner’s association couldn’t force you to move. That would also require some sort of coercive action, potentially involving bodily harm. I am also assuming they don’t have any claim on your home - it’s your asset, they don’t own it, so they have no legal claim to it.

An intelligent contract would have some remedy of relief built in. Maybe you place an at-risk deposit in escrow. Maybe a fine of $5000 levied by the homeowner’s association. If you default on the fine, there are established collection laws and judicial precedents for dealing with those things. And yes, at the end of a long and tortuous route, if you don’t have the money, a sheriff can force the sale of your home to pay it and boot you out onto the street. But I think that would take a while.

Bottom line…if you have serious assets at stake: your home in this instance, fire protection in the homeowner’s associations’ instance, think about how to draw up intelligent, enforceable contracts into which both parties will willingly enter, with reasonable remedies for relief spelled out in advance. No Libertarian would advocate some ridiculous remedy of an unreasonable contract.