Where Is Race in Law and Political Economy?

Angela Harris

In their first post on this blog, Amy, David, and Jed assert that “politics and the economy cannot be separated.” Nevertheless, as they also observe, the separation of the two – as, for example, in the idea that economic activity is determined by laws of supply and demand that lie outside the power of governments to influence, other than through misguided “intervention” – continues to influence law and policy. A similar separation runs through scholarship in several disciplines, including law, between the study of economics and the study of race. As the new field of “law and political economy” grows, one of its tasks must be to trouble this separation as well.

We know the separation most familiarly as the “race or class?” question (note the either/or framing). In the affirmative action debate, it manifests as this: Isn’t a poor white kid from Appalachia more deserving of the last spot in a freshman class than a black doctor’s kid? In academic discussions, here’s how it typically goes: All this stuff about race, or more broadly, all of this “identity politics,” is a distraction from the deeper and more fundamental realities of wealth and poverty, production and exchange. Sometimes race distracts because it is considered to be a matter of “culture,” which is “epiphenomenal” to material relations: It’s about exploitation, stupid! Other times, race is considered a distraction for pragmatic reasons, because its appearance is “divisive,” threatening the solidarity of labor, or the electorate, or progressive communities, or women. At still other times, especially within academia, the separation of race from economics looks something like a polite form of intellectual self-segregation: while all the black kids are sitting in the cafeteria together talking about critical race theory, the law and economics kids are at their own table, drawing supply and demand curves and talking about Pareto optimality. To each their own, and everybody’s happy.

But this story of race and racism as either irrelevant to or reducible to the story of production, exchange, and consumption is wrong. Black studies scholars have been saying so for quite some time. In 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois argued that what turned the tide of the Civil War was a mass withdrawal of slave labor, amounting to a “general strike.” In his view, the North’s victory was neither a race story nor a labor story, but a powerful demonstration of how the two were intertwined. Generations later, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism provided a similar attempt to take race seriously within a materialist frame, arguing that the Eurocentric origins of Marxist theory left it unable to adequately account for black history.

Continue reading

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.”

Image result for taylor mac

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.

Continue reading