I’ve always been perplexed by my right-wing friends’ inherent hatred of lawyers. To them, we’re a drag on business, the economy, and society as a whole. They love to quote Shakespeare (out of context) that, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
But what lawyers do is exactly what right-wing conservatives advocate all the time: Provide a private, market-based solution to economic regulation.
Economies (and societies) are made up of billions of private transactions. If I sell apples and you need apples, we might enter into a transaction to sell and buy apples. I will sell you apples for the highest price I can get and you will buy apples for the lowest price you can get. We both get what we want and we’re both happy. Done deal.
But what if I hide the fact that the apples I’m selling are rotten? I picked them from a worm-infested orchard. You would take the apples home and find out you got screwed. What do you do?
You could take them back to me and ask for a refund. If I’m scrupulous, I will apologize and give you your money back. But what if I’m a fly-by-night huckster? What if you can’t find me? What if I intentionally deceived you and am out selling more rotten applies to unsuspecting plebes like yourself?
You’d hire a lawyer.
The resulting lawsuit would force me to appear and answer for my misdeeds, pay for the damages, and deter me from selling more rotten apples. You’d pay your lawyer the lowest price you could and your lawyer would get paid the highest price she could. You’d both get what we want and you’d both be happy. Done deal.
A private, market-based solution to economic regulation.
But, consider the alternative, as Shakespeare said, in an economy where we “kill all the lawyers.”
I’d still sell you the same bad apples and you’d still go home and realize you got screwed. But there would be no private solution. You’d rely on some big-government agency called, say, the Federal Committee to Ensure Fair Business Practices (FCEFBP), to regulate the transaction.
You’d file a complaint (alongside the millions of other complaints) and wait for the FCEFBP to act. Maybe they’d decide to do something. Maybe they’d decide they’re overworked and complaints like yours just aren't worth their time. But, either way, you’re at the mercy of a big-government bureaucracy to solve your very real economic mess.
Now, to be fair, there are are big government bureaucracies that regulate business transactions all the time: the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration to name just a few.
But, again, these are exactly what pro-business, right-wing conservatives hate anyway. A big-government solution to a private, market-based problem.
If you don't believe me, check out this story from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (not exactly a champion of big-government regulation).
It’s a bit about how Japan, in its post-90’s economic meltdown introspection, decided to “breathe dynamism into society by mimicking the Western legal system, where courts are more involved in settling issues such as consumer safety and corporate malfeasance.”
In other words, Japan decided one of the solutions to its stuck-in-the-mud economy was to entice more lawyers to file more lawsuits.
The problem was, not surprisingly, a lot of people were getting screwed in Japan’s sluggish economy.
“The move to overhaul Japan’s legal system dates to the collapse in the early 1990s of its stock-market and real-estate bubble—which was blamed in part on opaque regulations and shady business practices,” the Journal says.
The approach called for doubling the number of Japanese lawyers “to move toward a more market-oriented, rule-based approach.”
Turns out, Japan realized, the best way to patrol private, market-based economic transactions is with a private, market-based legal system.
Just don't tell my right-wing friends.