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The Limitations of Economic Reasoning in Analyzing Duress

My colleagues and friends, Mark Seidenfeld and Murat Mungan, have made an interesting attempt to reduce the doctrine of duress in contract law to an inquiry about “rent-seeking,” by which they mean attempts to redistribute rather than to produce wealth. There is much truth in their argument, and they are admirably sensitive to many factors that should be, and are, important in contract-modification cases.  I do not think they have shown, however, that duress can workably be reduced to a simple formulation in the way they intend—or that even if it could, it would serve the functional or even simply the instrumental goals of contract law to do so.