Bounded Rationality, Standard Form Contracts, and Unconscionability
94 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2003
Economic theory suggests that, in most circumstances, market forces will ensure that stan-dard form contracts contain terms that are not only socially efficient but also beneficial to non-drafting parties as a class compared to other possible combinations of price and terms. This analy-sis in turn suggests that courts should enforce all form terms or, at a minimum, all form terms that non-drafting parties read and understand. Relying on social science research on decisionmaking, this Article argues that non-drafting parties (usually buyers) are boundedly rational decisionmak-ers who will normally price only a limited number of product attributes as part of their purchase decision. When contract terms are not among these attributes, drafting parties will have a market incentive to include terms in their standard forms that favor themselves, whether or not such terms are efficient. Thus, there is no a priori reason to assume form contract terms will be efficient. The Article then argues that the proper policy response to this conclusion is greater use of mandatory contract terms and judicial modification of the unconscionability doctrine to better respond to the primary cause of contractual inefficiency.
Keywords: behavioral law and economics, contracts, unconscionability, bounded rationality
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