Friday, May 25, 2007

Who Says That Judges Do Not Have a Sense of Humour About the Legal System?

Peter Lattman posts a piece in the Wall Street Journal online (23 May) that made me laugh, and I am sure it would have amused Adam Smith, LLD too:

It’s titled ‘Supreme Repartee, Starring Adam Smith’

“The editorial pointed us toward a playful exchange in the opinion between Justice Souter, who wrote for the majority (”believe it or not,” says the WSJ edit board); and Justice Stevens, who penned the dissent. Justice Stevens quoted Adam Smith’s famous line about pinmakers in the “Wealth of Nations,” (though he added “I am not so cynical as to accept that sentiment at face value”):

Many years ago a truly great economist perceptively observed that “[p]eople of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

To that, Justice Souter offered this footnote in response:

“If Adam Smith is peering down today, he may be surprised to learn that his tongue-in-cheek remark would be authority to force his famous pinmaker to devote financial and human capital to hire lawyers, prepare for depositions, and otherwise fend off allegations of conspiracy; all this just because he belonged to the same trade guild as one of his competitors when their pins carried the same price tag.”

More please! I like the erudition displayed by these judges and their understanding of what Smith alleged in Wealth Of Nations about contrivances to raise prices, of which lawyers know more than most.

They make money defending someone who is caught doing it and prosecuting someone when others believe that is what they are doing, and also advising legislators how to set the law to prevent anybody misbehaving in such a manner, and for giving opinions about what the law means and how it can be tightened or loosened to suit.

A legal career is a licence to print money. But justice is the cap stone of society. It's the price of liberty.


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