Theresa Amato is organizing to fight small-print contract trickery. (Courtesy of Citizens in Charge Foundation.)
Yesterday I wrote about the kind of absurd, unfair, and inscrutable contracts Americans click or sign on every day just to participate in normal commerce. I introduced Theresa Amato of Faircontracts.org, who’s organizing to fight these outrages, all licensed by pro-corporate court decisions, as one of the most pressing public policy problems we face, because, “If you take a look at all the economic problems we have, from the mortgage foreclosure crisis, to student loan debt, to credit card debt—pretty much pick your crisis—underneath everything you’re going to find a fine-print contract.” Today, I’ll tell you about what folks like this are trying to do about it all.
One piece is education—of which these blog posts are a part. “Just haul out your contracts and take a look!” says Amato, rattling off the toxic clauses consumers should look for: ones signing away your day in court in favor of binding arbitration (a non-transparent process that corporations almost always win); waiving liability and the right to take part in class action suits; gagging free speech; granting the contract issuer the right to unilaterally modify the terms. People “can demand that corporations treat them better, and not patronize corporations that have such provisions in their fine print. That of course means they have to read or know about it first.”
She recommends some outstanding recent books on the problem: University of Michigan law professor Margaret Jane Radin’s Boilerplate: The Fine Print, Vanishing Rights, and the Rule of Law (which contends that many fine print “contracts” aren’t actually legally contracts at all); Seduction By Contract: Law Economics, and Psychology in Consumer Markets, by NYU Law’s Oren Bar-Gill; The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind, by the legendary investigative reporter David Cay Johnston.
And, hey! Check out, I josh you not, this hip-hop joint, “Fine Print,” which Amato commissioned from the social justice rapper Lonnie Ray Atkinson:
Think about freedom, the freedom that they reppin’. Free to agree or else you get to steppin’. But that ain’t freedom, freedom means choice. The right to participate, the right to a voice.