Tag Archives: contract

Isaac Newton’s Funeral

Throughout history, most societies have been based on status. King, noble, and peasant. Brahmin and untouchable. Mandarin and coolie. One of liberalism’s crowning achievements is tearing down those old status societies and replacing them with contract societies. In a liberal society, all people have equal rights, and must deal with each other as equals. No man is forced to grovel before a duke or a king. He may look him in the eye now.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are far richer than I am. But if one of them wrongs me, I get my day in court. They might have better lawyers with shinier suits than me. But we are still equals before the law.

This was a novel phenomenon in the 18th century, mainly confined to England and the Netherlands, and even far more imperfectly than today. Here’s how Isaac Newton’s funeral looked through French eyes:

Having come from a nation where aristocracy and clergy held a monopoly on power and privilege, Voltaire marveled at a society where a scientist was buried with the honors of a king.

Robert Zaresky and John T. Scott, The Philosophers’ Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding, location 877 in the Kindle version.

Isaac Newton’s life was a landmark event in the history of science. His funeral was, unknowingly, a landmark event in the history of human freedom.


Playoff Bound?

Baseball season might be less than a week old. But after three games, the Brewers are in first place. Their magic number to win the division stands at a mere 159.

You heard it here first: the Brewers are on pace to be the NL Central champions.

Maybe today’s signing of Yovani Gallardo to a five-year extension will help the cause. The team remains in talks with Prince Fielder to keep him out of pinstripes, which could happen as soon as this season if the team falls out of contention.

Do Corporations Have Human Rights?

Intel’s defense in its EU antitrust case has taken the surprising line that the company’s human rights were violated. Over at Real Clear Markets, CEI colleague Hans Bader and I take a closer look. We conclude that Intel actually has a pretty good argument.

Corporations have human rights because doing so greatly reduces transaction costs: “suppose your company wants to buy some computer chips from Intel. You could have each shareholder sign the sales contract – good luck finding them all – or you could treat Intel as a person with the right to sign a contract, and the obligation to honor it. To deal with one person or millions? That is why corporations have legal standing as individuals.”

In short: no corporate rights, no modern economy. No exaggeration. There is a reason why legal conventions emerge as they do, even if they appear strange at first glance.

Iain Murray was kind enough to point out to me that the idea of corporate human rights has very deep roots. The 18th-century legal scholar William Blackstone, in his revered analysis of the English common law, wrote that corporations have the right “[T]o sue or be sued,, implead or be impleaded, grant or receive, by its corporate name, and do all other acts as persons may.”*

*William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Volume 1: Of the Rights of Persons, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979 [1765]), p. 463.