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July 9, 2010

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Great questions, Jonathan - the point about morality and contracts is at the heart of the debate about the nature of contracts; see Charles Fried's classic book Contract as Promise for a roughly Kantian view, and any law-and-economics book for the utilitarian view that contract law merely spells out the consequences of breach and minimizes the losses from it. (As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in The Path of Law, "Nowhere is the confusion between legal and moral ideas more manifest than in the law of contract. ... The duty to keep a contract at common law means a prediction that you must pay damages if you do not keep it — and nothing else.")

By the way, Steve Horwitz had a related post on this topic (http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/07/cheating-vs-rational-rule-breaking.html), looking at cheating verses rational rule-breaking.

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