What is a contract? Is it a mutual commitment to perform, or is it merely a promise to deliver the agreed-upon performance or pay damages, with each choice treated as equally acceptable? Most people answer those questions differently than the law does. People overwhelmingly view breach as immoral, favor specific performance if breach occurs, and consider exclusively economic damages undercompensatory. In contrast, courts typically treat breach as a rational option and deny nonbreaching parties specific performance and both nonpecuniary and punitive damages. The courts’ approach seems targeted to the needs of businesses rather than individuals.
This disconnect between most people’s beliefs and court enforcement undermines a foundational claim of contract law, that parties consent to a set of rules to guide their conduct and that courts enforce the parties’ will. Contract law zealously protects this consent principle in other areas, such as the statute of frauds, the doctrine of unconscionability, and the requirement for objective manifestations of intent. It seems incongruous, therefore, to frustrate consent when choosing remedies for breach.