Update: Audio of this talk is now available and video is embedded after the jump.
Professor Omri Ben-Shahar spoke on the
"Myths of Consumer Protection" at this year’s annual Ronald H. Coase lecture
for first year law students. Ben-Shahar discussed why he believes the modern
consumer protection movement is largely misguided. Consumer advocates cite
three things that consumers need: information about products, access to courts,
and remedies for wrongs done to them. In the eyes of the consumer advocate, a
consumer cannot compete with large corporations without these three things. It
would be David versus Goliath; and Goliath would always win.
#1: Consumers will be better off if they have more information
Warning labels are on everything. You can’t install a piece of
software or use a web site without checking some box guaranteeing that you have
read the Terms of Service. Do these forms of disclosure benefit consumers?
Ben-Shahar believes not. Disclosures of
information are often technical and hard to digest. People do not want to spend
the time to read these disclosures. In a study of online viewing habits, 1/1000
people actually read a site’s Terms of Service, and that single curious
individual only glanced at the complicated contract for an average of forty
seconds—perhaps just a misclick.
Late last year, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics Martha Nussbaum and Harry Kalven Visiting Professor of Law Cass Sunstein organized a conference devoted to an interdisciplinary discussion of the legal and ethical
issues posed by the new ways in which privacy can be invaded. "Speech, Privacy, and the Internet: The University and Beyond" brought together leading scholars to discuss these topics. As the conference webpage states,
current rise in invasive personal gossip, much of it anonymous and much
of it directed at students, often by other students, creates an
atmosphere that threatens to disrupt the climate of instruction. On
the other hand, restrictions on such internet sites raise delicate free
speech issues. What challenges do these developments raise on campus,
and what direction should universities take to meet these challenges?
Video of the conference keynote address, by former Chicago professor Lawrence Lessig, is embedded after the jump. The video also includes intros from Profs. Nussbaum and Sunstein and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum. You can read the University News Office story about the conference here. Audio downloads, abstracts, and selected papers are available here.
This week's edition of the Faculty Podcast is a double header of two recent Chicago's Best Ideas talks: Judge Diane Wood and Martha Nussbaum February 2nd discussion "Constitutions and Capabilities," in which the pair discuss practical implications for judges of Prof. Nussbaum's capabilities approach; and Richard Epstein's "The Coming Meltdown in Labor Relations," in which he discusses the Employee Free Choice Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
You can read Bryan Hart's summary of the Nussbaum/Wood talk here, and download the audio here; Bryan's write-up of the Epstein event is here, and the audio is here.
Last week Judge Posner and
Professors Nussbaum and Case faced off in a much-anticipated
debate entitled "Posner Answers the Feminists" (moderated by Professor Stone). The talk (which you can listen to here) was inspired by articles written by Nussbaum and Case for a
Symposium published by the University of Chicago Law Review commemorating
Posner’s 25 years on the bench.Both professors wrote on the topic of Posner’s sexual harassment
jurisprudence. See here for
Case’s article and here for Nussbaum’s.
But what began as a discussion
about specific sexual harassment opinions seemed to transform into a debate
over the state of feminism in the United States. Posner questioned whether feminism is still a "live
issue" in the United States given his view that women are outperforming men at
all educational levels and forging ahead in all professions, including in the
military. In Posner’s words, women
are now dropping bombs on people "just like the boys." "If that isn’t
equality," he joked, "I don’t know what is."
A perception exists that little communication occurs between the ivory tower of legal academia and the trenches of legal practice. The Chicago's Best Ideas talk on Monday, February 2 tried to bridge this gap by "making philosophy confront reality," according to Professor Martha Nussbaum, the first speaker. Nussbaum started building the bridge on the philosophical side, extending her remarks into the legal implementation of her philosophy, and Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit started on the legal side, extending into the hopes for applying a coherent philosophy to decisionmaking.
As you may already know, Professor Richard Epstein is not President Obama's biggest fan. Obama favors some economic regulations that Epstein does not. In his Chicago's Best Ideas talk on Tuesday, January 27, Professor Epstein spoke about three proposed laws in the area of labor relations: the Employee Free Choice Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Epstein spent most of his time on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), so my attention will focus on that law. (Epstein has a column about the Lilly Ledbetter Act on Forbes.com.) The EFCA is an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Epstein started with the word "free" in the EFCA's name. Back in the nineteenth century before the New Deal, "free" meant free for both sides of the labor relationship: employer and employee. An employer could not force the employee to accept a particular wage, and the employee could not, even if represented by a union, force the employer to hire him at a given wage. The NLRA was passed at the height of the New Deal in 1935. (Epstein is, not surprisingly, no fan of the New Deal.) The Act provides that unions can prompt a unionization vote by getting at least 30 percent of employees to show support by signing cards, called the card check. The vote is a simple majority vote by secret ballot. If the union is approved, the employer must negotiate with the union. Freedom under the NLRA is one-sided because employers must negotiate with a valid union.
You may have noticed that it's been awfully quiet around here; It's the calm before the storm at the Law School as we prepare for classes to start on Monday. If you're looking to fill the hours between now and then, have a listen to the first Faculty Podcast of the new year. Recorded on October 6 of last year as part of the Law School's annual First Monday series, Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law Richard McAdams gave a talk entitled "The Fourth Amendment in Transition?"