Amy Kapczynski –
In April, Jack Balkin, Yochai Benkler and I convened a workshop on the law and political economy of technology at Yale Law School. Participants drafted thought papers, which we spent the better part of two days discussing. In the coming weeks, many participants will post revised papers or reflections in a series of posts that will be featured on these pages and cross-posted at Balkinization.
In convening the conference, we aimed to bring a political economy lens to a domain of extraordinary importance to our lives today. Robots, gig-economy platforms, surveillance capitalism, and global networks all have helped shape rising inequality and the increasing precarity of work. Bots and social media generate new challenges for democratic societies purportedly based on fair elections and a reasoned public sphere. New surveillance technologies are being embraced by the criminal justice system, the military, and intelligence communities, with little attention to the racialized implications of these new extensions of the carceral state.
In analyzing problems such as these, we began from a shared understanding that technology doesn’t operate outside of a social or legal context. Technology has a political economy, deeply shaped by law. Politics orders technology through many different decisions made in code and in law. These include decisions about the scope and ownership of intellectual property, about the permissible degree of concentration in industries, and about who will be allowed to access the outputs and inputs of technology. Law, together with social norms, shapes the diffusion and adoption of technology—for example, through labor and employment regulations, tax and transfer policies, and securities laws. How does law interact with technology to increase control by some and decrease the freedom of others? How does it in so doing exacerbate inequality? And how might law make social practices mediated by technology more democratic and egalitarian? Over the course of this series, we will investigate how politics and law interact with technology to influence political and economic organization, mobilization and political communication, and patterns of inequality and economic insecurity.