Rent Cancellation: Social Protection in Uncertain Times

50167834446_19f4a27852_oKrystle Okafor–

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, interlocking structural inequities in health, employment, and racial justice have buffeted vulnerable populations. The looming “eviction apocalypse” sits at the nexus of these three ills. Black and Latinx people have the highest COVID infection, death, and unemployment rates nationwide. Mass evictions would only worsen this situation, preventing these households from sheltering in place and deepening the adversity they face.

As the latest federal stimulus package lingers in the Senate and the re-openings of states’ economies stall, activists have called for rent cancellation—the wholesale suspension of rent payments during the pandemic. It is neither a farfetched nor overblown proposition. Movements have made rent cancellation a central goal. Combined with precedential rent control cases, governments have the political and legal wherewithal to cancel rent. Further, social protection systems, institutional arrangements to insure against lifecycle and work-related contingencies, often evolve during times of crisis. If rent cancellation takes the form of a supply-side, landlord-facing debt relief program and is gusseted with tenants’ rights provisions, it could seize the moment, pass constitutional muster, and as I argue here, confer the necessary degree of social protection. Two arguments bear this out.

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Where Is the Care in the CARES Act?

Noah Zatz–

Two pandemic policy stories have been coming to a head: (1) the push for another relief bill as a key CARES Act unemployment insurance benefit expires on July 31, and (2) the ongoing national child-care crisis as school closures for the fall are announced amidst the virus’ resurgence. What connects them is kids’ needs for care and families’ needs for economic support when they—predominantly mothers, of course—perform that caring labor. A little-noticed feature of the CARES Act supports care for children who must stay home due to school closures.

Despite its title, the CARES Act takes an excruciatingly indirect route to supporting caregiving. These contortions reflect the deep-seated reluctance to recognize and value caring labor. Instead, the Act reflects the dominant approach—including within most progressive politics—of devoting resources to caregiving only to the extent that can be reframed as achieving some other goal: freeing up parents or other caregivers to do “real” work in the paid labor market, delivering education, delivering health care, etc.

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The “New Normal” Privatization of the Workplace

Ivana Isailović–

As the COVID-19 crisis rages on, individuals around the world are now thrown into a work-from-home, digitally-enabled “new normal” of the workplace. For most white-collar workers, homes have become offices, and boundaries between work and domestic life are being reshuffled.

This shift, however, is just an acceleration of prior developments well under way since the beginning of this new millennium. Before the pandemic, workers with some higher education more were already more likely to work from home. In part this shift resulted from demands for better “work-life balance” prompting employers to accommodate workers with caring responsibilities by introducing remote work and flexibility. More importantly, though, digital technology makes it easier for firms to outsource costs and flexibility onto workers, accelerating the rise of the gig-economy globally. Platforms like Upwork, firms can be assembled with labor from around the world, further privatizing and extending the traditional notion of the workplace.

For many, the current situation has made evident the conflicts between work and family responsibilities, something that feminist scholars have repeatedly put forward.

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We Cannot Prosecute Our Way to Making Black Lives Matter

We Cannot Prosecute Our Way to Making Black Lives Matter

Kate Levine–

Cities across the country are in turmoil after the cold-blooded killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. While the protests are motivated by and calling for a range of solutions to the ongoing problem of police brutality, the loudest call is for accountability in the form of criminal charges against the officers involved in Floyd’s death. Already, these calls have born fruit. The Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, who has taken over the prosecution, announced second degree (felony) murder charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Mr. Floyd, and through accomplice liability, this murder charge will also apply to the three rookie officers who were present and did not stop Chauvin, their training officer. All four face 40 years in prison if convicted. Meanwhile, protesters, media pundits, and influential celebrities have turned their attention to criminal sanctions as the means for justice for Breonna Taylor, a young black woman who was killed during a botched and likely illegal no-knock raid in Louisville, Kentucky.

In some sense, the notion that a quick criminal legal response is “justice for George” makes perfect sense. For too long police officers have committed violence against poor and marginalized people of color with no consequences. Moreover, there is no “equality under law” in our criminal legal system, which imprisons black Americans at a rate far outstripping white Americans. But for those of us with the privilege and power to take a step back and think before we jump on the criminalization band wagon, it is worth considering both how limited the justice of individual accountability in the form of criminal prosecution will be, and how much police brutality is a symptom and a result of our bloated, racist, and dehumanizing prison industrial complex.

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Don’t Reform Policing, Transform It

Don’t Reform Policing, Transform It

A version of this post appeared on the Boston Review’s website yesterday.

Jocelyn Simonson–

There is a distressing disconnect between the ringing demands for justice on the streets and the suite of “police reform” proposals that many experts say satisfy these demands. Protesters and social movements talk about divesting from policing and investing in black communities. They talk about ensuring that “the most impacted in our communities need to control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us,” as the Movement for Black Lives stated in its list of demands this week. The call is for stability, resources, control. The call is for power.

On the other hand, expert explications of the gold standard methods of “reforming police departments” focus on how to increase the efficiency and decrease the harmfulness of existing police forces. They emphasize measurable “success” in police reform: either instrumentally focusing on the “costs” and “benefits” of particular police tactics or seeking out “legitimacy” and cooperation between law enforcement and communities.

As the critical response to the8 Can’t Wait” campaign for “research-based” reforms to police department rules testifies, living up to the demands of the moment requires looking beyond technocratic fixes and reckoning with more transformational possibilities. It requires listening to the longstanding call from movements for more power over policing, more investment in their communities—not just to defund the police but, in the words of Families for Justice as Healing and other Black- and women-led groups in Boston last week, to defund racism itself. Although it is easy to dismiss these differences as a clean split between abolition and reform, the reality is not quite so facile.

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The Many Forms of Police Violence

Monica Bell – 


Jim Bourg/Reuters

Over the past week, there has been unprecedented acknowledgment of the physical violence that Black people in America have faced, for generations, at the hands of police. While this is an important development, the work to eradicate police violence will not be complete if the public remains concerned only with the most visually and viscerally jarring forms of police violence, and those for which police seem most responsible. The public must realize that violence—not only of the physical sort, but also the structural and symbolic variety—is endemic to much of the routine work police do in communities across America.

These forms of violence emanate from multiple institutions and how they interact, and not only individual institutions operating on their own. Reforming one institution–or even, as some have proposed, eliminating one institution—will not, on its own, bring an end to the racial violence that took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many named and unnamed others. It will certainly not end the anti-black violence that is a daily part of the black experience. It is the daily indignity of Blackness and racial violence—the combination of the physical, the symbolic, and the structural sort—that explains the uprisings happening across the country right now.

In a forthcoming article in NYU Law Review, I examine how these forms of violence operate, mobilizing police resources to validate white fear of property loss, creating major barriers to to neighborhood mobility, and perpetuating racial residential segregation. To illustrate, let me offer another story of police violence.

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The Economics of Shortages

Ramsi A. Woodcock–

The price of food increased 2.6% in April, the largest single-month increase since 1974, but food industry executives are insisting that the country has enough food. So why are prices going up?

The explanation provided by the industry is that consumers are buying more than they need, creating shortages.

But a shortage is not a good excuse for increasing prices. Contrary to what you might have learned in Econ 101, there’s only one reason for which a shortage should give rise to higher prices: profiteering, as I explain in a forthcoming law review article.

If shortage were the only explanation for these price increases, then the increases would need to be condemned.

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Public Participation as a Privilege for the Immune? LPE on COVID-19 (vol. 5)

This post is part of our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 Crisis from an LPE Perspective.

Sam Hull–

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, debate has begun over when and how to restart society. Some proposals, such as those that call for seniors to sacrifice themselves for the good of “the economy,” expose the inherent inhumanity of those who valorize profits above all else.

Others have explored how to reinstate economic activity without abandoning public health considerations. German researchers have proposed the issuance of “immunity passports,” whereby workers who have already had COVID-19 and developed antibodies “could be issued with a kind of vaccination pass that would for example allow them to [be] exempted from restrictions on their activity.” Italian politicians across the political spectrum have adopted the idea, and the White House coronavirus task force is reportedly discussing it.

Even absent such policies, there is also the possibility that businesses (i.e. “the market”) could impose similar restrictions on their own employees. Worries about insurance payments, higher sick days, and potential shutdowns should an employee contract the virus might lead employers to restrict hiring to those who can prove immunity. And perhaps to fire those who cannot.

What to make of these possibilities?

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LPE on COVID-19 (vol. 4)



Valeria Vital, an ER tech, holds a sign during a protest by medical professionals working for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., and their supporters on March 23, 2020. Photo (via The Intercept): Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Polaris

Dear Readers, 


As part of our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 crisis from an LPE perspective, we bring you a round-up of recent work from our LPE community. We’re aiming to make these a (semi) regular feature of the blog throughout the crisis. Above all, we hope you are as well as can be expected. 

Take care,

LPE Blog

Last week, Amy Kapczynski and Gregg Gonsalves appeared on Democracy Now, where they talked about the ways market logic has created a woefully insufficient American healthcare system, and what kind of policies could build an alternative.

They also have another installment in their work on COVID-19 up at Boston Review- this one is called Markets vs. Lives – beating back the wave of hot takes suggesting that we ignore the epidemiologists in order to serve “the economy.”

“What is happening today has no analogue in mainstream economic analysis: a rapid retraction of our paid economy, and a vast expansion of the kind of unpaid work that has never been properly valued. We are doing it for deeply human reasons, with the best evidence we have at the moment: to save the lives of people we know, perhaps even our own, and to protect our health care system”

You can also follow the work they are doing to improve our response to COVID-19 as part of the Global Health Justice Partnership.

Up recently at The Guardian, Veena Dubal draws attention the choice facing Uber and Lyft drivers in the crisis: risk contracting the disease, or starve. She also appeared on NPR this week to discuss coronavirus and the gig economy.

Brishen Rogers is also writing about the future of labor, as in this Boston Review piece imagining work post-coronavirus:

“COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our labor markets just as much as the fragility of our public health and welfare systems. As we take the economy out of its induced coma, we should ask what kinds of jobs we want and need.”

At Jacobin, Jedidiah Purdy-Britton writes that “the only treatment for coronavirus is solidarity.”

Mehrsa Baradaran explains how the CARES act fails to help those who need it most, and offered reflections on the crisis at The American Prospect. She recommends that LPE readers check out this symposium at Just Money, featuring many LPE Blog contributors.

Following the money and finance trail, on Wednesday, Saule Omarova posted on Just Money about Money in the time of Coronavirus,  calling for a contemporary analog to the New Deal-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation. She has also posted a memo on SSRN – “Why We Need a National Investment Authority.” 

In the absence of a permanent institution specializing in capital allocation and management, the American public is forced to rely on ad hoc crisis-containment measures that are notoriously politicized, messy, and prone to corrupt influence by private interests. The task of national economic mobilization falls mainly on the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve, whose modus operandi relies heavily on direct injections of public funds into—i.e., bailouts of—financial institutions and other private firms. As the 2008 experience shows, however, bailouts are difficult to execute without reinforcing the economically and politically damaging pattern of “privatizing gains and socializing losses.” Having a permanent federal agency with the authority and expertise to manage emergency bailouts would help to ensure that this process is handled in a transparent, democratically accountable, economically efficient, and distributionally just manner.

Robert Hockett has also been working to promote his Treasury Dollar plan, here on LPE Blog, and in a variety of other places. You can read the text of his proposed bill here, and further commentary in these two pieces at Forbes, and these two pieces on the democratic digital dollar at the Harvard Business Law Review and Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law and Policy.   Also this (paywalled) Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Finally, Lev Menand and Ganesh Sitaraman have a summary of lessons we should learn form the Great Recession in the face of another massive economic contraction.





Two Timelines of Covid Crisis

Frank Pasquale – 

We often hear that the current COVID crisis came “out of the blue,” that “nobody” was expecting it.* But anyone with a decent grasp of pressing issues in public health knew the risks of pandemics. As I wrote in 2014:

[R]eduction in hospital facilities and other resources, although “efficient” in normal times, may prove disastrous if there is an epidemic. For example, one national preparedness plan for pandemic flu estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, the United States would be short over 600,000 ventilators. “To some experts, the ventilator shortage is the most glaring example of the country’s lack of readiness for a pandemic,” one journalist noted. The lack of “surge capacity” throughout the health care industry is a major infrastructural shortcoming, likely to cause tremendous, avoidable suffering if a pandemic emerges.

So how did we get here? It’s critical, in the midst of the COVID crisis, to keep two timelines of missteps and mistakes in mind. There are short-term problems that have only emerged in 2020. And there is a much longer history of disinvestment (and poor investments) in American health care. In other words: ongoing rot has exacerbated the crisis, in Sandy and Jack’s temporal framework. It is the toxic combination of these two sets of problems that has left the U.S. one of the epicenters of COVID-related morbidity and mortality.

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