The Green New Deal: What’s Green? What’s New? What’s the Deal?

Robert Hockett –

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During their first weeks in the new U.S. Congress, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues already have done something no other American political figure has managed for decades. They have got the whole country, and indeed much of the world, talking about massively transformative public investment as a real prospect.

The ‘Green New Deal’ exceeds in scale and scope all major undertakings of U.S. federal, state, and local governments since both its namesake – Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal – and the mobilization effort for the Second World War in 1940s, respectively. And this is true irrespective of what measure of ‘size’ you might use – geographic and cross-sectoral scope, number of firms and sub-federal units of government apt to be playing a role, segments of the population who will be playing a role, dollar value of real expenditure, dollar value of expenditure as a percentage of GDP, … you name it.

Ambition on such a scale always draws carping and naysaying from the timid, the cynical, and the economically uninformed, and this time has been no exception. Predictable expressions of skepticism and incredulity, along with the usual ‘what about partisan gridlock’ and ‘how will you pay for it?’ queries, have abounded. Even some self-styled progressive politicians have hedged their bets, approving ‘the concept’ while studiously shying away from declaring on any particular instantiation.

Against such a backdrop, we do well to recognize that in the present case, ‘size matters’ – and matters in a way that the politically demoralized, the fiscally austere, and tepid allies alike seem to miss. The problems the Green New Deal addresses, in short, are problems where bigger is better, is imperative, and is, paradoxically, more politically feasible and ‘affordable’ too where responding is concerned.

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The App and the Operating System: Neoliberalism and “Social Reproduction”

Angela Harris 

In the LPE community, issues of race, class, sexuality, and environment are sometimes referred to collectively as “social and ecological reproduction.” In this post and others to follow, I want to think about the place of the social and the ecological in “law and political economy.”

As others have written on this blog, one of LPE’s central commitments is the idea that economic and political governance are both constituted through legal rules, reasoning, and institutions. A second commitment is that in a democratically constituted society, economic governance ought not to be treated like a fully autonomous machine, but rather as bound to some extent by political norms. These ideas, of course, are not new (even to legal scholarship, which tends to be a late adopter of new ideas). But they have new force today. As the late Erik Olin Wright observed in a paper on “strategic logics of anti-capitalism,” in the early decades following World War II (the “Golden Age of Capitalism”), federal government policy worked to ameliorate the most damaging effects of capitalism in at least three ways: reducing the exposure of households to catastrophic risk through social insurance; heavily subsidizing public goods such as libraries, education, transportation, parks, and basic science research and development; and creating a regulatory regime to address some of the most devastating “negative externalities” caused by corporate capital, including environmental degradation, predatory market behavior, and workplace exploitation. The reversal of all of these policies, here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, goes under the name “neoliberalism.” And “law and political economy” is critical legal scholarship reinvented for the age of neoliberalism.

What, though, does LPE want? Would rolling back neoliberalism lead us to pack away our laptops and go home? Take, for example, some infamous features of the “Golden Age:” the omission of agricultural and domestic workers from the Fair Labor Standards Act, the endorsement of “redlining” by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the embrace of gendered labor markets, and the failure of the federal government to provide free child care (let alone abortion and contraception). Stirring as FDR’s “four freedoms” speech continues to be, I wouldn’t want to live in 1941. We need to do more than un-install the neoliberalism app; we need to change out the operating system, and that operating system runs on caste.

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