This year we had an unprecedented number of contributors engage head on with the biggest, baddest LPE follow-up question: but what does it mean to “democratize”? For those vexed by the issue, I would recommend (re-)reading Daniel Walter’s post on agonistic theory, Noah Zatz’s post on law and democracy, and Amy Kapczynski’s conversation with Wendy Brown.
On the more nuts-and-bolts end of the spectrum, I loved Rick Weinmeyer’s post about private toilets and William Boyd’s post on electricity markets. Both take a familiar, observable phenomenon and explain how it was produced by policy choices designed to harness the purported benefits of private provisioning. These are the posts I would show to a curious friend, family member, or faculty mentor who asks what it means to “do” LPE.
I also really enjoyed every one of the “rapid roundtable” posts we ran this year. This relatively new format at the Blog pulls together a handful of quick takes on a hot topic from scholars, organizers, and practitioners. For me, it is exciting to see the very different directions people run when presented with a single topic. Last week’s roundtable on permitting reform, which included some of my personal heroes, was especially fun to read.
Finally, for all law students enrolled in biz orgs, I recommend the exchange between Carly Knight and Dan Rohde on the nature of the corporation. To summarize, Knight argues that we should resuscitate the view of corporations as “creatures of the state” in service of progressive demands for democratic accountability. Rohde pushes back, arguing that the very framing of the argument in these terms reinforces the state/market binary that an LPE approach should reject. I read these posts while reviewing for my final exam this fall and found them truly enlightening.
The LPE Blog Anniversary Crossword Puzzle by Natan Last: never one to shy away from difficult theoretical puzzles (see, for instance, posts this year by Noah Zatz and Amy Kapczynski), the Blog celebrated its fifth anniversary with some lighter puzzling fare. Where else could you find a crossword that required knowledge of both “the law-made dilemma of starvation or obedience” and Rihanna’s oeuvre?
The Law and Political Economy of Religious Freedom by Kate Redburn: the libertarian and Christian wings of the modern conservative movement are often cast as strange bedfellows, a marriage of convenience that will one day be torn asunder. Yet as Redburn convincingly argues, the two factions share a commitment to carving out a private sphere free from democratic control and, through an increasingly radicalized Court, have adopted a two-prong strategy to bring about this end. First, privatize public goods and services. Second, eliminate the distinction between religious and secular in the newly empowered private sphere. The rare piece of analysis that once stated seems immediately irrefutable, this post is yet another reason that the current Court is a five-alarm fire. Speaking of which…
The Role of Courts in American Political Economy by Brian Highsmith and Kathleen Thelen. Despite Alito’s pearl-clutching protestations to the contrary, integrity is but one of the many virtues that he and his fellow conservative justices lack. Yet, as this piece makes clear, personal and personnel failings are insufficient to explain why the Court has come to function as a forum for organized business to tilt the playing field its favor. To make sense of this development, Highsmith and Thelen argue, we need to attend to the institutional design of the American judiciary, which is an outlier among peer nations in several respects. As those interested in a thriving, modern society continue to gather the political force to confront the Court, this piece is a good reminder of the value of taking a comparative perspective.
The ‘Economic Style’ as Red Scare Legacy by Landon Storrs. Our symposium on Beth Popp Berman’s Thinking like an Economist was, in my humble opinion, the LPE Blog at its finest: a brilliant book on an important subject, discussed by scholars with a wide range of expertise, that generated constructive engagement, substantive disagreement, and the revelation that Lisa Heinzerling may have incepted then Senator Biden while prepping him for Breyer’s confirmation hearing. So make sure to read the entire symposium. But if, like me, you’re relatively ignorant about the impact of red scare politics on subsequent U.S. social policy, Storrs’ contribution will make you see the rise of the economic style in an entirely new light.
The Antitrust Case Against Gig Economy Labor Platforms by Marshall Steinbaum. To date, workers and their allies have attempted to resist the rise of the gig economy by arguing that most gig workers should be classified as employees, rather than as independent contractors. In this piece, Steinbaum opens a new front in this battle by taking labor platforms at their word. If gig workers truly are independent contractors, as companies claim, then why are companies permitted to exercise control over them by, for instance, dictating the prices that they can charge or requiring that contractors be exclusive to a single firm? Such vertical restraints, Steinbaum argues, inhibit competition in service of higher profits and so run afoul of antitrust prohibitions.
On Price Gouging and the Non-Ideal Theory of Fair Price by Luke Herrine. From Rawls to the present day, the number of political theorists defending the importance of non-ideal theory has far outpaced the number of theorists developing such principles. Not so at the LPE Blog. After a masterful discussion of the need for “fair price” to be set by standards of justice, Herrine makes the case that price gouging laws are well-positioned to prevent disproportionate harm from befalling the most vulnerable in our society, and so are one way that we can make our economy fairer, even as it remains far from fair.
A few final shout-outs: If you’re not getting yelled at by your parents for loudly arguing with your siblings about inflation at 1am, then I assume you missed our symposium on “Price Stability Beyond the Fed.” Every week, as a new company attempts to buy its largest competitor, I’m reminded of Sandeep Vaheesan’s excellent piece on the importance of reviving strong anti-merger rules. During a year when the Supreme Court occupied much of the public spotlight, Nicole Summers and Sara Sternberg Greene shed light on hitherto unnoticed failings of our lower courts. And while I am ashamed to say that I was not previously aware of Marta Russell’s writings, I am grateful to the contributors to our Capitalism & Disability symposium for putting her work on my radar and elucidating its importance.