Join LPE at LSA (virtually)!

The Law and Society Association is holding its massive annual meeting online this year, and Law and Political Economy scholars will be there!

The meeting takes place beginning this Thursday, May 28.

Here is the link to the LSA conference page, where you can access sessions (LSA has said that only registered attendees may do so). At LSA, LPE goes by its alter-ego “Community Research Network 55”. CRN 55 will have 8 sessions, all of which take place in “Webinar 08” on the LSA site. The schedule is below.

There will also be an LPE Zoom happy hour on Thursday, May 28 at 6p ET. Attendance is not restricted to people who have registered to the LSA conference. Please email luke.herrine@yale.edu if you would like the link to the Zoom.

Schedule: Thu, 5/28
11:00 AM – 12:45 PM LPE Approaches to Ecology and Health
2:15 PM – 4:00 PM UnKoch the Courts: Resisting Corporate Infiltration of Our Nation’s Law Schools & Judicial System

Fri, 5/29
11:00 AM – 12:45 PM The Law and Political Economy of Global Finance-LIVE SESSION ONLY
1:00 PM – 2:45 PM Platforms, Corporations, and Competition in the Economic Organization of Society
4:00 PM – 5:45 PM Constitutionalism and Domination in and Beyond Neoliberalism

Sat, 5/30
11:00 AM – 12:45 PM Reimagining Resistance and Rights Against Neoliberalism
1:00 PM – 2:45 PM How Litigation Distributes Power
4:00 PM – 5:45 PM Running the Numbers: Situating and Questioning the Empirical Turn in Legal Scholarship

The Fiscal Reckoning to Come: Paying for Virus Relief in an Era of Tax Cuts

Ajay K. Mehrotra –

To combat the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has enacted relief packages totaling nearly $2.5 trillion, with more aid likely to come. The fourth and latest effort contains $75 billion in grants for hospitals, and $25 billion to improve coronavirus testing. As economist Austan Goolsbee has rightly noted, “the number one rule of virus economics is that you have to stop the virus before you can do anything about economics.”

At some point, though, there will have to be a fiscal reckoning. The mounting bills of an unprecedented global healthcare crisis and its economic aftershocks will eventually come due. Indeed, commentators have already begun proposing ways to address the impending budgetary shortfalls while tackling economic inequality: from a one-time wealth tax on the wealthiest Americans to a progressive wealth tax for Europeans to an excess-profits tax on the large corporations profiteering from the crisis.

Yet, any possible tax hike in the United States will need to contend with the historical forces that, over the last four decades, have ushered in an equally unprecedented tax-cutting fervor. While now may not be the time to raise taxes, when the time does come, law and political economy activists and experts alike will have to confront the current political fervor for tax cuts. In her most recent book, Starving the Beast: Ronald Reagan and the Tax Cut Revolution, economic sociologist Monica Prasad explains how we got here, how the United States, unlike most other advanced industrialized countries, has abandoned any notion of fiscal discipline and instead embraced tax cuts and deficit spending as the answer to every economic and political dilemma.

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The Institutional Design of Community Control

K. Sabeel Rahman & Jocelyn Simonson – 

we charge genocide

(via We Charge Genocide Chicago)

As the COVID19 pandemic and economic crises continue to ravage the country, it is increasingly clear that the virus is not just a public health challenge: it is also exposing deep systemic failures of governance, and disparities of political power. Black and brown Americans are the most likely to die from this virus, a reflection of the ways in which our economy and society concentrate risk, pollution, and disinvestment in racialized ways that literally cost lives. We can see the devastating effects of the status quo in the lives of “essential workers” women and Black and brown workers in particular, who were already in positions of terrifying economic insecurity and now find themselves on the frontlines of the pandemic response. These socioeconomic inequities are the product of underlying structures born from law and public policy that shape our economy and society. A big reason why these policies systemically disadvantage communities of color and working class people in general is that the communities most affected by them rarely have decisive, influential power over these underlying systems and the laws and policies that create them.

The dialectical relationship between structural inequalities and political power compounds this difficulty: multiple layers of democratic and structural exclusion reinforce each other, reproducing unequal, racialized systems of justice and of governance. For example, when people directly affected by the criminal legal system attempt to intervene in policy debates over criminal law and procedure, they find their calls muted because they are members of a population that has been systematically disenfranchised by the very systems of criminal law that they aim to reform. The antidemocratic nature of our legal systems reinforce structural inequality; the result is that increasing community participation does not, on its own, truly tackle these deeply embedded structural problems.

Recognizing this difficulty, social movements made up of people who tend to be excluded from governing power are rethinking the notion of community participation itself. In our recently posted paper, The Institutional Design of Community Control, forthcoming in the California Law Review next month, we lift up social movement visions of local governance and use them to push toward bigger questions and concrete lessons for how local governance in particular, and institutional design more broadly, can shift power. As these social movement actors diagnose, contesting and dismantling structural inequities require a dramatic and fundamental change in how we make major policy decisions. Changing the balance of power in these decisions is in turn a question of institutional design: how we build and operate the institutions of governance, particularly in administrative institutions often overlooked by electoral politics.

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Anti-Monopoly and Regulated Industries Summer Academy: Call for Participation

cropped-fat-crony-cc1The Law and Political Economy Project is pleased to announce it will be holding an eight-week Anti-Monopoly and Regulated Industries Summer Academy in June, July, and the first week of August.

The Anti-Monopoly and Regulated Industries Summer Academy (AMRI Summer Academy) will provide participants with a crash course in political economy, anti-monopoly, public utility, and regulated industries, drawing on cutting-edge scholarship in law, economics, and social science.  Participants will come away with an understanding of the unique challenges of 21st century capitalism and a broader sense of the legal and institutional tools that can be leveraged to tackle the kinds of concentrated corporate power that are manifest today, from Big Tech to new monopoly power in sectors like healthcare, finance, agriculture, and more.

The summer academy will be held online, and it is free of charge. The intended audience is law students, graduate students, early-career scholars, activists, and early-career professionals in fields related to law and policy.

If you are interested in participating in the summer academy, please send an email to AMRIAcademy@gmail.com with (1) an explanation of your interest in the program and any relevant experience or coursework (no more than two paragraphs), and (2) a copy of your CV or resume. Space is limited and the sign-up process will close on June 1.

If you have any questions, please contact project lead Jay Varellas at jvarellas@berkeley.edu. Full details are included below.

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Labor vs. Capital: Continuing the Meritocracy Trap Debate

This post, an exchange between Andrew Hart, Marshall Steinbaum, and Daniel Markovits, continues their debate from our March 2020 series discussing The Meritocracy Trap by Daniel Markovits. Click here to read all posts in the series. 

Andrew Hart & Marshall Steinbaum: It seems to us that the issue is not whether one places income in buckets labeled “capital” or “labor,” but rather what those particular buckets signify when it comes to extremely wealthy people. We might all agree to call the $50 million that a healthcare CEO gets for working 80-hour weeks “labor” income, but the fact that the firm or the “economy” has seen fit to allocate $50 million as a proper compensation for a healthcare CEO does not, as far as we can tell, have much to do with the productive value of 4,200 hours of healthcare CEO work over the course of a year. To justify this income by reference to skill is a just-so story—part of the inequality regime of “hyper-capitalism,” as delineated in Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital and Ideology.

But Markovits seems to accept at least some of the human capital justification for high salaries when he speaks of superordinate workers and their immense skills and training. Put another way, we think Markovits believes the operative question is whether a person needs to work 80-hour weeks to get the $50 million as a healthcare CEO, and if the answer is yes, then the money is labor income. By contrast, we believe that the question should be why a healthcare CEO is “worth” $50 million in the first place, and that the answer to that question may at least cast some doubt on the usefulness of the category “labor income” when a person’s yearly income is high enough.

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Historicizing Consumer Protection

Luke Herrine–

Learned Hand once described the task of the Federal Trade Commission as “discover[ing] and mak[ing] explicit those unexpressed standards of fair dealing which the conscience of the community may progressively develop.” In a previous post, I argued that moving consumer protection law beyond consumer sovereignty requires recovering this way of thinking, common among Progressives and inspired by the common law. Talking in terms of fair dealing requires recovering the instinct for moral economy. “Democratic forms of moral economy,” I elaborated, “require developing institutions that enable collective deliberations about which (and whose) interests various consumer markets serve and which interests they ought to serve,” and endowing these institutions with the power to shape the rules that govern those markets.

If we are to recover this style of reasoning, we will have to overcome the defense mechanisms against it in contemporary legal consciousness.

With respect to the FTC’s consumer protection authority, the most powerful defense mechanism is a morality tale about what happened when the FTC tried to imbue the notion of “unfairness” (which lies at the core of its consumer protection authority) with too much moral content. Most consumer protection lawyers have at least a vague notion that the current legal standard for determining whether an act is “unfair” was written after the FTC was chided for attempting to use its unfairness authority to ban children’s advertising some time in the 1970s. On the standard version of this story, the public recoiled at the FTC’s audacity, Congress forced the FTC to develop a more neutral/objective standard for determining whether something is “unfair”, and economists were called in to add some rigor to the proceedings. The lesson is that only bad things result when morals and politics guide consumer protection. The FTC should stick to promoting “consumer choice”.

In a new draft article, I argue that this story is bunk.

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