Whoa, we're half way there
Whoa oh, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand and we'll make it I swear
Whoa oh, livin' on a prayer
- Bon Jovi
In the movie Idiocracy, "Private Joe Bauers, the definition of average American," is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.
Wouldn't it be lovely to think it will take 500 years for society to become incredibly dumbed down at our current pace?
Last week, the Federal Reserve announced it will prohibit banks from charging overdraft fees on automated teller machines or debit cards, unless the customer consents, or opts in, to the overdraft service.
Apparently, customers never read their service account agreements and complained to their congressmen that they had been unfairly treated after the $37 billion in overdraft fees collected last year.
The primary takeaway I retain from my contract law class some twenty years ago is that contracts are to be followed. Apparently, that is no longer the case.
From home mortgage restructurings to fixed income security indentures, investors, consumers and transactionaries of all types enter contracts left and right without fully reading and considering the terms of agreement.
Personally, I have no problem with this. In fact, I am a frequent abuser of contract protection in this fashion. Today's high-speed, Internet-based, give-it-to-me-now culture leaves no room for careful consideration of the agreements we enter into on a daily basis.
But I've never disputed a contract once I read it. Of course, I typically only read the contract after disappointment in some fashion. Shame on me.
I remember when I was in high school, many students complained about performing math calculations by hand when many cheap calculators could solve these problems in nanoseconds. I never agreed with this philosophy and still have need for longhand division at least weekly.
Now it seems reading is the next step — or more to the point, the responsibility to read.
Simply put, we've already litigated away most personal responsibility when its existence is questioned (recall the $2.7 million settlement over "hot coffee" at McDonald's in 1994). Now, we are setting a precedent to throw out all contract law, defining obligations as what the customer thought they were at the time of, or perhaps well after, the transaction.
At stake is nothing less than society itself. If we don't hold all parties accountable for the contracts they enter, where is this country headed? Why even learn to read, if what you read does you no good, even in a court of law?
Perhaps instead of "livin' on a prayer," we should just advance our society 500 years and begin watering our crops with a sports drink, as in the (hopefully not) prophetic movie mentioned above. After all, it's got "electrolytes" so it must be good!
Weekly initial unemployment claims continued their decline in the week ended November 7 to 502,000 from 514,000 the prior week. Continuing claims dropped as well to 5.631 million, after peaking near 7 million over the summer. Though continuing to show improvement, the labor market has a long way to go and a lot of slack to reel in before putting upward pressure on prices.
The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index dropped to 66.0 from 70.6 in October, reaching its lowest level in three months. Though a rising stock market helped boost consumer outlook, it seems that was only temporary as consumers continue to struggle with their own personal balance sheets.
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