Institutions of the Solidarity Economy

Geoff Gilbert –

In my first post, I introduced the framework for solidarity economy political economy power that grassroots social justice movements are building around the world and in the US. This post will elaborate how solidarity economies actually work.

Democratic Land

Community land trusts (CLTs) facilitate community ownership and control of land, and land banks allow communities to democratically redistribute land. Movement groups are hard at work building CLTs and land banks, which, when combined with broader changes to property rights associated with land, like the creation of a land value sales tax, help us imagine the beginnings of a land system designed for human use, as opposed to the status quo design for financial profit.

Community land trusts are nonprofit corporations that: 1) enter into covenants to not sell land for a specified period of time, typically up to 99 years; and 2) are controlled by boards comprised of members who use or live near land. By covenanting to not sell the land for a long period of time, CLTs tie the cost of using the land to the cost of purchasing and maintaining the land and the structures it contains, and thereby divorce the cost of using the land from the ever-increasing market price of the land. Detaching the land from its market price can insulate land from the gentrifying forces – such as rising rents, rising property taxes and irresistible offers to individuals to sell land to the highest bidder – that are displacing working class people, and disproportionately people of color, in cities throughout the world. Democratic governance of the CLT by members who live on, use, and/ or live near the land facilitates democratic land use decision-making.

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The Racial Wealth Gap and the Question of Time Zero

Michelle Wilde Anderson

Each year teaching Property Law, I have taught many of the big cases and topics on race and property law, such as M’Intosh and Dred Scott; segregationist turbulence in rights of reasonable access; public accommodations law; racially restrictive covenants; the Fair Housing Act. I never quite had a cohesive idea about this—they each seemed formative.

Meanwhile, evolving case law and politics have made it clear that we still have a basic disagreement at the heart of American law and politics, and my students carry that question with them into class: On matters of race, did we reset the playing field of property to start a merit system where fair access to markets would govern? Did we create a new Time Zero—for instance, when LBJ signed the Fair Housing Act as a gesture of solace and appeasement seven days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination?

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Property Law as Poverty Law

Michelle Wilde Anderson –

I recently interviewed a man in a weakened rural town who makes sausages for a local meat packing business on the 3am shift. He told me about a homeless woman who had come to the meat shop one dark morning with blood-soaked hands. Delirious with cold and exhaustion, she had punched in the glass on an abandoned burrito shack to shelter from the cold rain overnight.

For her, housing and land still matter. The forces of weather and gravity mean that 100% of people need shelter, with a patch of dirt for it to stand on. More than ever, it seems that housing and land matter most for understanding poverty and rising inequality. An average of more than 550,000 people were homeless each night in 2017, and 6,300 people are evicted in the US every single day. I live in San Francisco, where just yesterday I passed by 40 or so tent shelters on sidewalks, plus two Lamborghinis worth at least $250,000. I’ll guess that those cars don’t spend their nights outside.

The 1L introductory Property Law course isn’t usually about how law helps protect money and drive poverty, but I think it could be. Teaching it as a class mostly centered on land helps it get there.

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Against the Cult of Competition

Sandeep Vaheesan –

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Competition is one of the talismanic words in law and economics and American life. It is often hailed as an unqualified good and touted as a solution to what ails society. The value of competition is endorsed across the ideological spectrum: Conservatives decry the lack of competition in schools and taxi cab services, while progressives highlight the dearth of competition among multinational corporations and call for a revival of antitrust law. Notwithstanding this trans-ideological commitment, we should not privilege competition at the expense of alternative means of structuring a democratic and egalitarian political economy. Three examples illustrate how competition is deficient as a general social organizing principle and should be promoted selectively, not categorically.

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