Autocracy at Work: Understanding the Gothamist Shut Down

Sharon Block and Benjamin Sachs – 

Last week, billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the local news websites Gothamist and DNAinfo.  The closure came a week after the sites’ newsroom employees voted to join Writers Guild East, a union that is the collective bargaining representative for reporters and editorial staff in a rapidly growing number of progressive, on-line media outlets.  Hamilton Nolan, a senior writer for Splinter and a lead organizer for the Writers Guild, made a compelling case in a New York Times op-ed that Ricketts did not shutter the company because of what the union would mean for the sites’ economic prospects. After all, the union hadn’t yet made a single demand. Instead, in Nolan’s words, Ricketts destroyed the company “out of spite.”

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But why do unions infuriate people like Joe Ricketts? Why would Ricketts prefer having no business at all than a unionized business? The answer, we think, is suggested by something Ricketts said during the union’s organizing drive: “As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.” In other words, Ricketts expects that his financial power buys him the right not just to own a business, but to control his business’ workforce unburdened by the voices and views of that workforce

Unionization is, and always has been, the most effective way that working people can wrest a bit of control back from owners like Ricketts. It operates through the simple logic of collective action: by bargaining together, people increase their leverage and gain a voice in shaping what their work lives are like. Unions move workplaces away from institutions governed autocratically – by those with the ‘money that pays for everything’ – and toward institutions that are governed democratically, by including the insights and opinions of those who do the work. Continue reading

Entrepreneurship Can Be Unproductive or Destructive

Frank Pasquale –

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Entrepreneurship in the international arms trade leaves everyone (except the entrepreneur) worse off.

In contemporary American law, few figures are as lionized as the “entrepreneur.” Lobbyists evoke entrepreneurship as a cornucopia of better goods and services at lower prices. Even ostensibly academic business law courses tend to offer a narrative of wise incremental development of legal doctrine toward enabling disruption, easy entry into markets, and ultra-flexible corporate forms. The lawyer is ideally, in this view, a fixer capable of profit-maximizing distributions of responsibility and liability. Some even dream of automating this role via smart contracts, to ensure even more rapid entrepreneurial activity.

Professional Responsibility courses also tend to adopt a similarly reverential attitude toward the business client, instilling an ethic of “zealous advocacy” in generations of students. Few question whether the near-evacuation of ethical self-reflection from advocacy roles systematically advantages dubious (or worse) business propositions.

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Thinking Intersectionally About Race and Class in the Trump Era

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Noah Zatz –

More than a year after the 2016 election, progressive analysis and strategy continue to be limited by the ping and pong of class-not-race and race-not-class accounts, and recriminations they provoke. Understanding what happened and charting a way forward require an alternative, a thoroughly intersectional analysis of race and class. On such a view, taking race seriously is necessary to understand how class works, not to diminish its importance.

“Intersectionality” risks depletion with its rise as a buzzword, but I mean to invoke specific insights animating the pathbreaking work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and other feminist scholars of color. In particular, they argued that understanding race and racial oppression requires an analysis of how race is gendered and gender is racialized. As Sarah Haley argues in a recent tour de force in this tradition, “gender is constructed by and through race.” So, too, we cannot understand and respond to the racism on display in the 2016 election and since without understanding its intersection with class, and how class is constructed by and through race.

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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.”

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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.

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Subsidize Worker Organizing

Will Bloom –

Advocates and scholars agree that the labor movement is in dire straits: shrinking union density, fewer successful elections, Trump appointees to the NLRB, and proliferating state free-rider laws all threaten labor’s power.  Everyone knows that there’s a problem.  The disagreement, however, is in the nature of the problem—and consequently, how to solve it.

I submit that, when we think about legislative interventions aimed at revitalizing the labor movement, we have to change the question from “How do we make it easier for unions to win recognition?” to “How do we make it easier for workers to organize?” Policymakers have long felt more comfortable focusing on the former question, brainstorming ways to help workers obtain legal recognition from a government agency, the NLRB. What they find more difficult is developing policies that help workers actually build those particularized, complex social relationships that underlie organizing and enable collective action. But legislation can empower workers and organizers in the most direct possible way: paying them to organize. Continue reading

Why “Intellectual Property” Law?

Amy Kapczynski – 

When I entered law school in 1999, I was primarily interested in two things: HIV/AIDS, and critical approaches to human rights.  I was also young and queer, and Bowers v. Hardwick was the law of the land.  Sodomy was illegal in many states, and so, it seemed, was I.  So, I was also deeply interested in the law of sexuality.

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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) poster

I ended up teaching and writing about intellectual property (IP) law.  My 1L self would not have believed it. (I even have the picture to prove it).

As a prelude to a series of future posts about my work in this field, I wanted to describe how I came to IP law – or rather, how it came to me.  If you aren’t sure what IP means or why it is important to social justice today, this post is for you.  The same is true if you are wondering how someone interested in law and political economy develops a research agenda, and why someone might choose patent law as a key part of it. Continue reading