Post-Nuclear Holocaust Movies and the Academic Job Market

thunderdom.jpgGordon Smith has a post about interview questions for prospective law professors. Having recently run the gauntlet of the meat market, this is a topic where memories are still fresh in my mind. I remember one question in particular. It was during an on-campus call back interview. I gave my job talk — a piece on the relationship between autonomy theories of contract and corporations — and then waited for the faculty questioning. By this time I had given the paper about a half dozen times, and I thought that I pretty well knew what points were going to get raised. Not so. A faculty member raised his hand and asked the following question: “Can you please explain to me how autonomy theories of contract would deal with the remedy provided for breach in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome where the rule is ‘break a deal, face the wheel’?”

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, of course, is the classic Mel Gibson-Tina Turner movie about life in Australia after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization as we know it. Those who breach their contracts in the post-apoclyptic world must spin a wheel — rather like the Wheel of Fortune — on which are written various punishments. Whatever punishment the wheel lands on is meted out to the breaching party.

I replied by pointing out that a commitment to an autonomy theory of contract requires a rather more expensive enforcement mechanism, because it is necessary for adjudicators to invest resources in discerning the actual intent of the parties in so far as they are able, rather than relying on cheaper, more formalistic modes of interpretation. Presumably in the post-apoclyptic world, the resources that society has available for the resolution of contractual disputes are reduced, and therefore they adopt remedies rules that require less fact finding. Spinning the wheel, for example, doesn’t require that the court invest any additional resources in calculating the value of the disappointed promisee’s expectation measure. In a world, however, that has not been devastated by nuclear war, society has the resources to devote to a more nuanced approach to contractual disputes, although if we take efficiency as the sole goal of contract law, then a process of largely randomized remedies like the wheel may be superior.

I thought it was a pretty good answer. On the other hand, I didn’t get an offer from that school…

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6 Responses

  1. The correct reply is that the question is moot: there is no third Mad Max Movie. The franchise ended after Road Warrior, and any subsequent film claiming to extend the story should not be taken seriously. 🙂

  2. tim zinnecker says:

    Sometimes in my secured transactions class one or more students will express pro-debtor sentiments during our discussion of the default remedies available to the secured creditor. I usually respond with pro-creditor thoughts, often invoking the “break the deal, face the wheel” line from the movie.

  3. Eric Goldman says:

    Maybe the non-offering school thought: “We don’t need another…law professor.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Don't_Need_Another_Hero

  4. Isn’t “bust a deal, face the wheel” the rule only in Bartertown?

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    Now there’s an idea for the hiring process:

    Two profs enter. One prof leaves.

  6. Kaimi says:

    From your title, Nate, I thought you were going to compare the meat market to a post-nuclear holocaust.

    And I was nodding, yes, that sounds right, continue . . .