My favorite symposium was Cost Benefit Analysis at a Crossroads, which brought together scholars from different fields to reflect on the limitations and future of quantitative regulatory review. The contributors excavated many of the analytical limitations of conventional CBA, including its presumption of exogenous preferences and general disinterest in distribution. More interesting to me, however, was their grappling with deeper questions about the correct relationship between measurement, empiricism, politics, and justice. I particularly enjoyed contributions by Lisa Heinzerling and Amy Sinden discussing the role of CBA in environmental policy, where the failure to value the future “benefits” of climate stability has powered our charge towards catastrophe. As we work to build an affirmative vision of better regulatory decision-making, I am sure this series will be worth returning to.
There were many examples this year of the Blog engaging with legal and policy debates happening in real time, but I will highlight two of my favorites. This round-robin-style discussion of the repeal of the eviction moratorium helped make sense of the Supreme Court’s decision in its immediate aftermath. And William Boyd’s post on the energy blackouts in Texas was another standout that drew connections between LPE and current events. As Boyd explains, Texas’s energy system was deregulated in 1970s in pursuit of the “benefits of competition promised by the neoliberal vision.” The resulting system, he argues, has failed to stimulate investment in an energy system that is durable and resilient in the face of extreme weather events.
Two big-picture Blog posts especially stuck with me this year. First, Angela Harris, Amy Kapczynski, and Noah Zatz’s Where Is the Political Economy? post reminds us to interrogate and unsettle standard definitions of “the economy” while critiquing existing economic orders: “LPE scholars should be […] attuned to what falls outside the [traditional economic] frame, and why. Conventional understandings of the economy implicitly reduce it to domains of voluntary exchange involving money. These misconstrue where and how production and exchange that matter to human flourishing occurs.” Second, Kathryn Sabbeth’s Market-Based Law Development in the Courts and Capitalism symposium provides a wide-ranging overview of the structural ways in which the civil justice system reproduces and exacerbates socioeconomic inequality. At a time when many are focused (and importantly so) on political economy critiques of the Supreme Court and federal court system, I appreciate that Sabbeth’s analysis attends to the ways in which market logics govern state civil court, as well.
Radical Rent Demands
At the start of the year, the Blog published two pieces on rent strikes and cancel rent campaigns: Kiana Boroumand’s What the UK Student Rent Strikes Reveal About Financialization and Sasha Plotnikova’s The Case for Making Rent Disappear. Both pieces draw attention to the corporate entities—from the Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector to real estate investment trusts (REITs)—that deepen the financialization and commodification of housing. These pieces provide useful descriptive and prescriptive frameworks for thinking about radical tenant resistance, especially in an age of increasing pandemic-induced housing precarity for renters across the country.
Reflecting on the Bonds of Inequality Symposium
Destin Jenkins’ Metaphors, Analogies, and the Politics of Understanding was a thought-provoking conclusion to the Bonds of Inequality symposium. Particularly poignant was Jenkins’ reflection on discussants’ divergent approaches to thinking about the role that municipal debt and bond markets should play in local futures. “Despite our collective commitments to reparative public goods and re-municipalism, and our opposition to predatory forms of structural dependence,” he notes, “we remain divided about whether the fundamental problem is the municipal bond market and the structural dependence of cities on that market, or municipal bonds and indebtedness itself.” I’m interested in seeing the kinds of scholarly and political conversations this divergence generates, and envisioning creative alternatives to the municipal bond system in light of the ills that discussants and Jenkins have diagnosed.
Building Worker Power
Finally, I wanted to highlight two of my favorite labor-focused Blog posts of 2021, especially in light of insurgent organizing and promising worker victories that we’ve watched unfold this fall/winter. Kate Andrias and Ben Sachs’ Law and Organizing for Countervailing Power underscores the importance of facilitating mass membership organization both within and outside of a traditional labor context. And Diana Reddy’s Labor Bargaining and the “Common Good” interestingly situates the bargaining for the common good (BFCG) ethos within “labor unions’ ongoing struggle for legitimacy and power post-neoliberalism.” Reddy argues that despite potential wariness about making “claims of public or consumer benefit the lynchpin of union legitimacy, there are reasons to be hopeful about an on-the-ground strategy that builds broader solidarities to increase countervailing power.” Another pair of insightful and provocative articles that I’m revisiting as we usher in what will hopefully be a worker justice, union victory-filled 2022.
Market-Based Law Development by Kathryn Sabbeth: Although the question of how adjudication reproduces inequality has been central to critical approaches to legal analysis, the focus tends to be on the substantive rules being enforced and the role that courts play in shaping them. Comparatively little work has been done on how the process of adjudication is biased in such a way the “haves come out ahead” (in Marc Galanter’s famous formulation). And, especially with the emergence of arbitration, class waivers, and other ways of eroding the midcentury due process revolution, the work that focuses on procedural inequality tends to fetishize those liberal norms. This post is a masterful synthesis of recent literature on how adjudication disadvantages the already disadvantaged that points in a more critical direction. A wonderful resource that rewards re-reading.
Where is the Political Economy? by Angela Harris, Amy Kapczynski, and Noah Zatz: “What is LPE?” we are often asked. We often ask ourselves. This post is bound to be placed alongside the early “Toward a Manifesto” post and the “20th Century Synthesis” article on the shelf of touchstones we rely on to answer that question.
Law, Liberation, and Causal Inference by Lily Hu: Mainstream economics has become an increasingly empirical field. Since the “credibility revolution”, its claim to superiority among the social sciences has more and more relied on its use of highfalutin statistical methods to make credible “casual inferences” instead of highfalutin mathematical models of hypothetical rational choices. Lily Hu’s work is essential reading for those who welcome more empirically-minded analysis of the political economy but who are skeptical of economics’ claim to epistemic superiority. After reading her series on causation and race at Phenomenal World, I invited her to write something up for us. And she didn’t disappoint.
Pricing Power: Market Governance and the Texas Blackouts by William Boyd: Speaking of methodology, William Boyd’s ongoing research on how pricing depends on the legal construction of markets and the continued relevance of just price ideas is a glowing exemplar of what makes for a uniquely LPE analysis. Last year, I mentioned how important I think it is for LPE to build out non-neoclassical methods for making sense of the inner workings of markets. Boyd is at the forefront of those efforts. This post of his shows the fruit of that theoretical, historical, and normative work as applied to a quite practical, essential, and timely problem: electricity blackouts and price spikes in Texas last winter.
Towards a Law and Political Economy Approach to the Global War on Terror by Zohra Ahmed: I learned so much from this post. What I love most about it is that it is explicitly presented as an exploration, an invitation to think together at a new frontier. What is the political economy of the war on terror? It seems like an obvious question, and it even seems like the answer might be intuitive (something about capitalist imperialism, resource extraction, and military budgets…), but this post shows how much work remains to be done. I can’t wait to see where this project goes, and I hope for more posts that are similarly exploratory.
Public Money without Public Goods by David Stein: Just a masterful synthesis of the intersection of so many domains of LPE exploration: federal money creation, state-federal relationships, power exerted through financial markets, racialized exploitation and carving out of space, the role of the criminal legal system in reproducing race and class, the history of neoliberalism and its relation to modern governance…
Coalminers and Coordination Rights by Branden Adams: Another example of the power of non-neoclassical methods, this time in the historical register, focusing on the struggle for control over the price and terms on which coal would be shipped in the early 20th century.
Law and Political Economy: A (Very) Brief Field Guide for 1Ls by Sam Aber & Caroline Parker: Another touchstone in answering “What is LPE?”, but aimed at law students specifically. I have already heard from multiple people that they have used this post as a teaching resource. Most of my favorites have moved scholarship forward in some way, but this post advances pedagogy and movement building.