Law and Political Economy: Toward a Manifesto

David Singh Grewal, Amy Kapczynski and Jedediah Purdy –

This is a time of crises.  Inequality is accelerating, with gains concentrated at the top of the income and wealth distributions.  This trend – interacting with deep racialized and gendered injustice – has had profound implications for our politics, and for the sense of agency, opportunity, and security of all but the narrowest sliver of the global elite. Technology has intensified the sense that we are both interconnected and divided, controlled and out of control.  New ecological disasters unfold each day.  The future of our planet is at stake: we are all at risk, yet unequally so. The rise of right-wing movements and autocrats around the world is threatening democratic institutions and political commitments to equality and openness.  But new movements on the left are also emerging.  They are challenging economic inequality, eroded democracy, the carceral state, and racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination with a force that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Law is central to how these crises were created, and will be central to any reckoning with them.  Law conditions race and wealth, social reproduction and environmental destruction.  Law also conditions the political order through which we must respond.

How should legal scholars and lawyers respond to this moment?  We propose a new departure – a new orientation to legal scholarship that helps illuminate how law and legal scholarship facilitated these shifts, and formulates insights and proposals to help combat them.  A new approach of this sort is, we believe, in fact emerging: a coalescing movement of “law and political economy.” Continue reading

Your Money or Your Life?

Amy Kapczynski – 

High drug prices are a major problem in the United States. In the Washington Post today, Aaron Kesselheim and I have an op-ed about what President Trump could do – immediately – to lower drug prices, if he had any intention of following through on all of those campaign promises and tweets. 649816939_1280x720(We also explain why his nomination of Alex Azar to head HHS is a clear sign that he will do none of this.)

Here I wanted to say more about the stakes of the drug pricing problem, and about one option we describe – a little known patent “eminent domain” power that could be a powerful tool to lower drug prices.

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How the Tax Bills Target Good Government, Workers, and Young People

Anne Alstott –

If the details of the House and Senate tax bills under consideration in Washington make your eyes glaze over, it’s because they’re supposed to.  The tax-writers, as they often do, are using the technicalities of the tax law to mask major changes in national economic policy.  It’s fairly well-known that both bills are stacked in favor of the wealthy.  But the details of the tax bills (please don’t call them “tax reform”) contain a neoliberal agenda that, if enacted, will punish good governance, reward capital over labor, and favor the old over the young.

The United States, perhaps more than any other developed country, shapes its economy via the tax law.  Neoliberals often say that the United States – unlike socialist Europe – has no government-sponsored industrial policy. And it is true that (for the most part) we don’t have big spending programs that subsidize business or  have big bureaucracies that manage the economy. Instead, our politicians hide economic and social policy in the tax code and leave administration to the IRS. In 2015, for instance, the United States devoted $1.2 trillion to tax-based subsidies – an amount that exceeded federal discretionary spending in that year.

Paul Ryan

So, even as politicians rail publicly against tax loopholes, both parties use the tax code to reward favored industries and citizens. The current tax code, for instance, favors owners of capital, wealthy dynasties, highly-paid workers, and industries including tech and pharmaceuticals as well as finance, insurance, and real estate.

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Autocracy at Work: Understanding the Gothamist Shut Down

Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs – 

Last week, billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the local news websites Gothamist and DNAinfo.  The closure came a week after the sites’ newsroom employees voted to join Writers Guild East, a union that is the collective bargaining representative for reporters and editorial staff in a rapidly growing number of progressive, on-line media outlets.  Hamilton Nolan, a senior writer for Splinter and a lead organizer for the Writers Guild, made a compelling case in a New York Times op-ed that Ricketts did not shutter the company because of what the union would mean for the sites’ economic prospects. After all, the union hadn’t yet made a single demand. Instead, in Nolan’s words, Ricketts destroyed the company “out of spite.”

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But why do unions infuriate people like Joe Ricketts? Why would Ricketts prefer having no business at all than a unionized business? The answer, we think, is suggested by something Ricketts said during the union’s organizing drive: “As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.” In other words, Ricketts expects that his financial power buys him the right not just to own a business, but to control his business’ workforce unburdened by the voices and views of that workforce

Unionization is, and always has been, the most effective way that working people can wrest a bit of control back from owners like Ricketts. It operates through the simple logic of collective action: by bargaining together, people increase their leverage and gain a voice in shaping what their work lives are like. Unions move workplaces away from institutions governed autocratically – by those with the ‘money that pays for everything’ – and toward institutions that are governed democratically, by including the insights and opinions of those who do the work. Continue reading

Law, Political Economy, and the Legal Realist Tradition Revisited

K. Sabeel Rahman — 

As David, Amy, and Jed note in their opening post, the economic, social, political, and ecological crises of the current moment are helping fuel an exciting wave of legal scholarship. This emerging trend, the “law and political economy” (LPE) approach, interrogates the relationships between law, politics, and economics, exploring issues of power, inequality, democracy, and social change. As we explore what this approach might mean and what its implications might be, it is important to situate these inquiries in a larger history of legal scholarship and reform politics. This is not the first time that a similar moment of crisis has helped spur creative new thinking about the relationships between law, capitalism, and democracy—and it won’t be the last. In this post, I want to sketch a particular aspect of this trajectory: the long legacy of legal realism and its relationship to our current debates around law and political economy.

This legacy is important for two reasons. First, now, as then, we face a similar period of socioeconomic upheaval and political conflict, prompting us to rethink our legal structures. As a result, the substantive insights of legal realism remain valuable for an LPE approach today. Second, recalling the trajectory of legal realism and its successor intellectual movements is helpful in highlighting the kinds of tensions and questions that an LPE approach will have to continue to address.

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Entrepreneurship Can Be Unproductive or Destructive

Frank Pasquale –

rifles-to-be-burned-in-kenya-2016

Entrepreneurship in the international arms trade leaves everyone (except the entrepreneur) worse off.

In contemporary American law, few figures are as lionized as the “entrepreneur.” Lobbyists evoke entrepreneurship as a cornucopia of better goods and services at lower prices. Even ostensibly academic business law courses tend to offer a narrative of wise incremental development of legal doctrine toward enabling disruption, easy entry into markets, and ultra-flexible corporate forms. The lawyer is ideally, in this view, a fixer capable of profit-maximizing distributions of responsibility and liability. Some even dream of automating this role via smart contracts, to ensure even more rapid entrepreneurial activity.

Professional Responsibility courses also tend to adopt a similarly reverential attitude toward the business client, instilling an ethic of “zealous advocacy” in generations of students. Few question whether the near-evacuation of ethical self-reflection from advocacy roles systematically advantages dubious (or worse) business propositions.

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Thinking Intersectionally About Race and Class in the Trump Era

Trump_victory_speech

Noah Zatz –

More than a year after the 2016 election, progressive analysis and strategy continue to be limited by the ping and pong of class-not-race and race-not-class accounts, and recriminations they provoke. Understanding what happened and charting a way forward require an alternative, a thoroughly intersectional analysis of race and class. On such a view, taking race seriously is necessary to understand how class works, not to diminish its importance.

“Intersectionality” risks depletion with its rise as a buzzword, but I mean to invoke specific insights animating the pathbreaking work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and other feminist scholars of color. In particular, they argued that understanding race and racial oppression requires an analysis of how race is gendered and gender is racialized. As Sarah Haley argues in a recent tour de force in this tradition, “gender is constructed by and through race.” So, too, we cannot understand and respond to the racism on display in the 2016 election and since without understanding its intersection with class, and how class is constructed by and through race.

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Modern Money and Historical Trauma

Angela Harris –

In September of 2017, I attended the First International Conference of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Subtitled “Economics for a New Progressive Era,” the conference displaced the university’s annual Post-Keynesian Conference, signaling a growing enthusiasm for MMT among academics, advocates, students, and regular people. Reporters from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal were in attendance as twenty-seven panels and several keynotes covered topics from “Stock Flow, Consistent Models, Finance, and Growth” to “MMT in the Streets: Grassroots Organizing and Mass Mobilization.”

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Taylor Mac

I got home from Kansas City in time to catch the last half of the third chapter of the “24 Decade History of Popular Music,” a “radical faerie realness ritual” presented by the drag artist Taylor Mac. Two hundred and forty-six songs long, and covering the history of the United States from 1776 to the present, the work was performed without a break for twenty-four hours in New York last October. I saw it at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, where it was presented in four six-hour blocks (with no intermissions) over the course of two weekends. I was fortunate enough to be there for three and a half of those blocks: twenty hours of dazzling, fabulous costumes; music from a slowly dwindling band (one musician departing every hour until only Mac remained); burlesque dance; “The Mikado” performed with the characters as Martians; and historical events reenacted through audience participation, from the Civil War (we threw ping-pong balls at each other), to the Cold War (two giant inflatable penises, one stamped with a Russian flag and the other an American flag, bounced from the balcony down to the orchestra and eventually ejaculated white ribbons on the crowd).

What do PowerPoints in Kansas City have to do with rubber breasts, high heels, and glitter in San Francisco? For me, the answer is white supremacy.

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Subsidize Worker Organizing

Will Bloom –

Advocates and scholars agree that the labor movement is in dire straits: shrinking union density, fewer successful elections, Trump appointees to the NLRB, and proliferating state free-rider laws all threaten labor’s power.  Everyone knows that there’s a problem.  The disagreement, however, is in the nature of the problem—and consequently, how to solve it.

I submit that, when we think about legislative interventions aimed at revitalizing the labor movement, we have to change the question from “How do we make it easier for unions to win recognition?” to “How do we make it easier for workers to organize?” Policymakers have long felt more comfortable focusing on the former question, brainstorming ways to help workers obtain legal recognition from a government agency, the NLRB. What they find more difficult is developing policies that help workers actually build those particularized, complex social relationships that underlie organizing and enable collective action. But legislation can empower workers and organizers in the most direct possible way: paying them to organize. Continue reading

Why “Intellectual Property” Law?

Amy Kapczynski – 

When I entered law school in 1999, I was primarily interested in two things: HIV/AIDS, and critical approaches to human rights.  I was also young and queer, and Bowers v. Hardwick was the law of the land.  Sodomy was illegal in many states, and so, it seemed, was I.  So, I was also deeply interested in the law of sexuality.

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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) poster

I ended up teaching and writing about intellectual property (IP) law.  My 1L self would not have believed it. (I even have the picture to prove it).

As a prelude to a series of future posts about my work in this field, I wanted to describe how I came to IP law – or rather, how it came to me.  If you aren’t sure what IP means or why it is important to social justice today, this post is for you.  The same is true if you are wondering how someone interested in law and political economy develops a research agenda, and why someone might choose patent law as a key part of it. Continue reading

Law & Neoliberalism

David Singh Grewal and Jedediah Purdy –

Neoliberalism is an indispensable term for making sense of the legal, political, and ideological conflicts of the moment, and also one of the most maligned. Liberals who feel criticized by it have insisted so often and so loudly on its uselessness that even those on the left who use it often seem compelled to apologize as they do so, to distance themselves from all its other uses and users. People thus use the term in the very conditions it should work to criticize: isolated, idiosyncratic, mutually mistrustful, and “entrepreneurial.”

The term matters because it names key strategies in one of the major conflicts of the time: the struggle between democratic claims on economic life, usually on behalf of the security and autonomy of workers and other “ordinary” people, and the claims of capital and management: for higher profit, greater capital mobility, the subjection of non-market practices to market logic (from childrearing to universities to the professions), and “freedom to manage” through “labor flexibility.” To use the term, in the early twenty-first century, is generally to acknowledge the lines of this conflict, and often to take sides. For this reason, it is often discomforting to anyone whose view of the social and legal worlds is fundamentally conciliatory – Make the pie bigger through overall efficiency! – or organized by a different division, such as good Democrats versus wicked Republicans, or responsible conservatives versus heedless liberals.

If you are looking to identify neoliberal forms of argument, look first for four overlapping kinds of claims. The first and simplest is an efficiency-based view, sometimes called (by its critics) “market fundamentalism,” holding that strong property rights and private contracting are the best means to increase overall welfare, and that law should promote these except when it intervenes to “correct market failures.” Second is a more explicitly moral line of argument (though of course promoting overall welfare is an intensely moral project) that property and markets best protect the freedom and dignity of individuals, so a market society is the most decent social order possible. The third line of argument adopts a tragic register to deny that democratic politics and public institutions can ever successfully discipline and shape economic life. This pessimistic position tends to serve as a backstop when it is clear that market arrangements are failing to deliver overall welfare – because of intermittent crises and runaway inequality, let us say. “That may be so,” the neoliberal argument now runs, “but the alternatives are always worse – corruption, abuse of power, utopian tyrannies.” The last line of argument is the subtlest, often implicit, and also often the most important: the exclusion of certain kinds of ideas and proposals from any place at the table. Continue reading