Reminder: LPE Conference Proposals due Sept 15

Just a reminder that paper and panel proposals for the LPE Project’s Conference, “Law and Political Economy: Democracy After Neoliberalism” (April 3-4, 2020, at Yale Law School) are due one week from today, September 15. You can find the call for papers here

One clarification: Panel proposals should include a description of the panel as a whole and abstracts for each paper. Each of those pieces can be up to a page in length (e.g., a proposal for a 4-person panel could be up to 5 pages).

We really hope you will join us!

Law and Political Economy of Commodity Rushes: Reflections on “Land Grabbing” in the Global South

Lorenzo Cotula –

A few years ago I travelled to central Ghana, in the fertile farmlands west of Lake Volta. A global land rush was in full swing: large agribusiness plantation deals – “land grabs” for the critics – were announced at a dizzying pace in many low- and middle-income countries. This transition belt between Ghana’s forest zone and the northern savannah proved popular with international agribusinesses, and I came to understand the deals’ local impacts.

One day I spoke with a farmer who, until then, had made a living growing maize and yam. Shaded by a rough straw hat, the grey-bearded man retraced how a jatropha plantation took much of his land. He thought the compensation was not enough to get land elsewhere, and felt too old to establish a new farm anyway – or take a job with the plantation. He had some land left but knew they would come for that too. When that happens, he concluded, he would just stay at home.

I asked him how he felt about these developments. “I am unhappy about what happened”, he said, “but there was nothing I could do”. As a long-term migrant, he did not own the land: the power to allocate land rested with the traditional chief, who signed a lease with the company. Behind the farmer’s life-experience lay the way law structures property, territory and decision-making power. Confronting the issue alone seems impossible: it calls for a bold agenda of action and research that ties the global with the local.

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Reclaiming the Right to Future Tense

Scott Skinner-Thompson –

By now, many of the societal, political, and distributive harms caused by large technology companies and so-called “social” media companies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.) have been surfaced.  They invade our privacy, decrease market competition, erode our sense of self and, despite their euphemistic label, our sense of community.  Shoshana Zuboff’s new book—The Age of Surveillance Capitalism—intervenes to weave together the seemingly balkanized practices of large, monopolistic data-harvesting companies, painting a more comprehensive picture of their decidedly anti-social strategies.  At the same time, she situates their tactics in comparative, historical context as a distinctively new market logic.  Zuboff labels the emerging economic regime created by these tech companies “surveillance capitalism” in order to capture the transformative shift they represent in how our society is being organized—organized by surveillance capitalist corporations, not by the people.  Put simply, surveillance capitalism is an economic ideology that deploys divergent technologies as a means of cultivating and monetizing our identities. 

As Zuboff underscores, surveillance capitalists treat the information generated by our online activity and our situated, physical activity (collected through the Internet of Things) as raw material available for extraction—a pool of resources that Julie Cohen has theorized and critiqued as the “biopolitical public domain.”  But even more troubling, once scythed and privatized by the surveillance capitalists, our information is sifted to predict and shape our future behavior.  The shaping of our behavior by surveillance capitalists threatens individual autonomy, yes, but also popular sovereignty and democracy itself.  This may sound hyperbolic, but Zuboff methodically explains how surveillance capitalism is undermining core democratic values and why the stakes are so high. 

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The Deregulatory Takings Are Coming!

Nikolas Bowie –

Laws take. It’s what they’re for. Taxes take dollars from some people and distribute them to other people. Traffic laws take away drivers’ opportunity to speed through intersections. Zoning restrictions take from neighbors their ability to build apartments in their backyards. Talk to me about a law’s requirements and you’ll be talking about a taking.

The ubiquitous nature of takings is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Knick v. Township of Scott was, perhaps, its most consequential decision of the last Term.  The case dramatically expanded the range of circumstances in which a person can challenge a state or local law in federal court under the Takings Clause, which states that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Given the current Court’s deregulatory impulses, the end result could endanger many redistributive laws at the local level, including inclusionary zoning rules, rent controls, and every other health and safety regulation that “takes.”

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