The Breakfast Table

Caveat Emptor

I wish you would, at least for present purposes, stop being so modest. If you feel unqualified to talk about the markets and the economy, how can I , unlicensed practitioner that I am, possibly dare to opine? In which case how are we going to fill up the rest of the space allotted to us this week?

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I agree with you on the likely correct tenses for Professor Siegel’s article. Our mutual friend, Jim Glassman, has also been pushing the Siegel line hard, including a recent Slate dialogue (might as well push the product) with the Economist ‘s Clive Crook and while I always find his optimism tantalizing, I also find it hard to swallow.

Speaking of things that are a bit hard to swallow, how about that report on the New York Times’ front page this morning that a federal appeals court in New York has decided that a woman who has failed the bar exam repeatedly may demand special treatment in retaking the exam because she claims to have a reading disorder? This despite the fact that an expert hired by the bar examiners found she had no disability (and that when special accommodations were made for her on her last try, she still failed).

Now there is no question that an affluent society should do what it reasonably can to enable the truly disabled to participate as fully as possible in the life of the community. And there is also no question that, for too long, such efforts weren’t made. But aren’t we getting carried away? The ability to read, comprehend, and respond in a reasonable time seems to me to be a clearly legitimate and job-related requirement for being a lawyer. Yes, that means that not everybody can be a lawyer (or nuclear physicist or neurologist or even a journalist) and that, in the occasional case, some people who would bring compensating characteristics to the practice will nonetheless be prevented from doing so.

But we used to think that a known law–or set of rules–impartially administered is a great societal good. Yes, there will be some hardship occasioned by their operation, and if those instances come to be regarded as too frequent or unfair, then it’s time to change the rule. But once you start creating exceptions and introducing discretionary waivers into the rules, you open up a system to abuse and, ultimately, loss of legitimacy. Getting down to cases, I notice that some medical students in West Virginia filed a lawsuit last year seeking special treatment because of claimed “attention deficit disorder.” They lost, but given the new appeals court ruling it’s probably only a matter of time until some other medical student raises a similar claim and wins. Do you really want to have a doctor with attention deficit disorder? (I sometimes have a hard enough time getting my doctor’s attention as it is.) At the very least, we ought to have a truth-in-labeling requirement. Maybe a special flag on those certificates that doctors and dentists and other professionals display on their office walls–”Caveat emptor: This practitioner was unable to pass the qualifying exam under normal test conditions.” Or am I being too market oriented?