In his book, The Logic and Limits of Bankruptcy Law, Thomas Jackson asserts that bankruptcy law should approximate the bargain creditors would strike at the initiation of the firm (T1) regarding the possibility that the firm might later fail and default on its debts (T2). Jackson reasons that the firm’s creditors would choose a collective remedy that limits the power of individual creditors to force an inefficient liquidation. They would agree to stop the race of diligence.
In his thoughtful and provocative contribution to this symposium, The Creditors’ Bargain Revisited, Barry Adler asks whether, in the current world of finance and bankruptcy, creditors would choose the same collective remedy? His answer is, “No.” As he sees it, creditors would prefer the unfettered right to exercise their negotiated remedies. Barry offers three pieces of evidence: (1) sophisticated creditors frequently say that they would prefer to opt out of collective bankruptcy in favor of individual collection; (2) creditors frequently seek to adopt bankruptcy remote structures such as securitization through special purpose vehicles to avoid the bankruptcy process; and (3) blanket (often second) lien financing is frequently used by undersecured creditors to control and implement an all asset sale. Instead, he posits his preferred, noncollective, approach to insolvency: an express bargain based in creditor autonomy, or as he puts it, “a contractual alternative to bankruptcy.”
My response proceeds in three steps. First, I channel Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride to suggest that the “Creditors’ Bargain” does not mean what Barry thinks it means. Second, I situate Barry’s contractualism in relation to the alternate “collective” theories of bankruptcy value distribution: the relativism of Baird and Casey; and a more rigorous version of the creditors’ bargain articulated by me and Melissa Jacoby in previous work. Third, I argue for the normative superiority of the collective approach, both for its fidelity to the Creditors’ Bargain heuristic and because of its consistency with a broader set of corporate governance norms that seek to encourage adequate capitalization and risk internalization.