There are many important issues in our economy and on our stock markets that need to be addressed. There are also a host of smaller, nagging, annoying little problems that should raise all our hackles.
Well, at least they bug Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner. In this series from the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, he takes aim at several tiny yet irritating quirks of the market and the wider economy.
In this installment, David takes aim at those novella-length disclosures and end-user agreements that we're required to sign off on before using a company's product or service. Do we really need to study a 40-page legal document to start using a smartphone or open a bank account?
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on July 20, 2016.
David Gardner: No. 3, and here we start to leave the sublime. I still think this counts as sublime, but you could argue me off this. How about all of the disclaimers that we're all constantly asked to say, "Yes, I have read this." I mean, Apple does it with Apple agreements. ITunes. Banks. There are any number of these.
And I understand why it's come to this. Essentially what has happened is that a company or organization has, at some point in the past, failed to tell somebody to do or not do something. Then the litigious American society has sprung into action and forced that company or organization to admit what it did was wrong -- often rightfully so; good for them -- and put in writing what could happen so that you and I have to agree that we will not go after that company or organization if something like that, or many other things, happen.
And what happens over the course of time is these build up. They start at one page, and then something else happens and they go to two, and then three, and then all of a sudden we're all flipping through 40-page -- supposedly flipping through 40-page disclaimers agreeing that we've read this.
It was once pointed out to me that if you signed up to be a park ranger, and we'll just go back to the halcyon pre-disclaimer 1950s, there was what had initially been the park ranger's manual. You were expected to know, as a park ranger, what was in that manual. And it was pretty manageable. I'm going to make this up. It was about 20 pages long. You studied it, and memorized it, and you knew what you needed to know to be a park ranger.
And over the course of the coming decades, that thing bloated with all kinds of additional disclaimers and agreements that people had signed off on. "Let's make sure that nothing goes wrong here." And in this national park, unfortunately, a fire started because of this one rare situation, and we now need all park rangers, at all parks, to make sure that they know about this. And it's bloated to the point that no one actually reads or knows the park ranger's manual anymore.
That's a little bit of an anecdote that I picked up from a book once. I'm not a park ranger, but I hope it kind of makes sense. That's sort of how we've gotten to this point. And all I'll say, in closing on this one, is it's kind of pernicious, isn't it? When you think about it, we're essentially training all of us, as citizens, to just lie on an ongoing basis. "I have read this. I agree."
Truly, if you have a sense of honor, and if that means something to you, I hope a portion of you revolts a little bit at the prospect of constantly being asked to lie and to have that be a systemic and institutionally driven thing today. I'd love for us, as some future vision of America or our globe, to get beyond that. I would love, if at some point in the future, looking back to today, people are laughing at how completely silly it was to have to read through, supposedly, a 47-page agreement and say "I agree" before using your iPhone.