Purdy on Economic Power in NYT and TNR

Jedediah Purdy —

This week, I published two pieces about economic power. One, an op-ed in the New York Times, distilled some major themes from the Supreme Court’s neoliberal jurisprudence: allowing private power to colonize public law (arbitration), using constitutional rights to protect economic power (First Amendment restrictions on union dues and campaign finance), and deploying federalism doctrine to block national programs of social provision (the Medicaid expansion decision). I argue basic LPE themes: public and private power are inseparable, law stitches them together, and we need to protect and reclaim a way of integrating them that empowers democracy to constrain capitalism. Today the Supreme Court is taking aggressive, creative steps to make this harder. In fact, this has been a major theme of the Roberts Court.
The other piece is a review of three new books on class. There’s a lot of twist, turn, and texture. I celebrate that they try (two of them especially, in very different ways) to describe the experience of class in a new landscape of global commodity chains, rural depopulation, and the fracking boom. I especially admire Eliza Griswold’s description of class–in which she doesn’t use the word–as a web of social and environmental vulnerabilities, ways the world is indifferent and dangerous to you. At the same time, I suggest we might also need to think about class from a different perspective: that of the bosses and owners. Their class consciousness is often arrestingly lucid, and in many ways they are the ones who make the world. And, with the next confirmation, the Roberts Court looks likely to defend the economic power of bosses and owners even more vigorously in its ongoing transformation of American law.

Weekend Roundup 03.09.18

The week’s posts and the best of what we’ve been reading, for your weekend pleasure.

This week at LPE Blog, reformisms were on the chopping block. We started with the second installment of Sabeel Rahman’s series on structural equality and law, where he argued that structural problems like inequality will not be solved by “meliorist reforms” that may advance some people within a given system if the system itself produces inequality. Instead, legal solutions must tackle “the ways in which law and policy operate in the background to produce structural forms of concentrated private power, patterns of discrimination and segregation, and barriers that exclude access to foundational goods and services.” As he points out, many contemporary social movements have framed their struggles against structural inequality, rather than particular bad actors.

Will Bloom offered an example of one such movement in his piece drawing connections between the Fight for $15 and recent teacher’s strike in West Virginia. In both movements, workers are breaking out of the old model – which enabled adjudication between employers and employees in a particular firm – and organizing to challenge conditions across an entire sector. As the New Deal labor settlement crumbles, Will suggests that the labor movement has a chance to build broader solidarities, and potentially to reset the background conditions for traditional collective bargaining. Here are some more stories about the strike you might like. Ok, one more. And a tweetstorm (worth it!)

Both Sabeel and Will had me thinking about socialist theorist André Gorz’s famous concept of the “non-reformist reform,” a metric he created to help break out of the reform/revolution binary. Unlike “reformist reforms,” which don’t advance structural re-alignment, Gorz’s “non-reformist reforms” bend the arc of justice a little bit at a time. In the gradualist world of American law, it can sometimes be difficult to tell which way the wind is blowing. Are small steps capitulations to an unequal system, or openings for the momentum of larger change? The “non-reformist reform” slows down the imagined pace of change, but not the magnitude of potential transformation.

And then yesterday we published this beautiful piece by Amy Kapczynski and Jedediah Purdy on gun rights and sovereignty in neoliberal times. It’s worth a read for the summary of Reva Siegel’s article about the recent invention of an individual right to bear arms in constitutional law, if you haven’t encountered that before, but Amy and Jed really hit their stride when they draw links between the ways gun rights proponents mobilize race, constitutionalize private violence, and lobby to shield gun manufacturers from ordinary rules of liability. The piece shows the strength of the LPE frame amid an avalanche of hot takes.

There was some great LPE writing in other corners of the internet this week. In the Boston Review, Sam Moyn reviewed Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. Rather than offer another hate-read of the book (read this one if you read any), Moyn finds something to praise in Lilla’s suggestion that the Democratic Party ditch neoliberalism for economic justice. Without giving Lilla more credit than he is due, Moyn converts the review into an elegant indictment of both liberals eager to scapegoat identity groups for the travails of the left, and the Dems for tacking right even when they had governing power. Aziz Rana also has an LPE-inflected analysis of the 2016 election in the most recent N+1. He calls it the “last election of the cold war,” and argues that the center-right and center-left consensus that has characterized elite politics since Truman has finally buckled under the weight of contemporary social and economic crises. He connects the movements that supported Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to their historical antecedents in early 20th century American socialism and white nationalism, respectively. For LPE readers, perhaps the most incisive moments come in Rana’s prescription for “overcoming institutional paralysis in our constitutional system” by un-rigging electoral systems, promoting real workplace democracy, and running candidates to the left of the DNC’s chosen few.

Remember to send us your pitches, your questions, and tune in next week for more from LPE Blog. Rumor has it there may be an LPE podcast pending, but you didn’t hear that from me.

-KR