Many of us came to law school interested in how the law can advance social justice, only to find ourselves disoriented by a 1L curriculum seemingly uninterested (and often hostile) to these questions. We encountered the Coase theorem in torts and Pareto optimality in contracts, but were given no vocabulary to understand the politics underlying these ideas. We were told that matters of economic redistribution were irrelevant to constitutional law, without any rigorous interrogation of why and how this came to be. And we were told that the laws of the market have no bearing on racial and gender equality, despite their tremendous power in ordering modern society.
This experience convinced us that we need other modes of analysis. For many law students, required core courses – typically including constitutional law, contracts, civil procedure, criminal law, property, and torts – are the first introduction to what the law is and how to understand it. As such, they should be our first entry point into modes of critical analysis of the law in relation to power.
The Law and Political Economy Blog’s forthcoming 1LPE series – launching in installments from now through November – aims to provide a critical countervailing perspective on the doctrinal areas traditionally constituting the 1L curriculum. Instead of the typical structure and content of core courses, which tend to obscure their significant implications for social justice and democracy, the 1LPE Series aims to clarify the stakes, precisely by beginning to articulate a law and political economy (LPE) analysis of each doctrinal area. For each doctrinal area, we have asked contributors to craft syllabuses, thought pieces, case mark-ups, and other materials as an exercise in envisioning an LPE approach to the subject. These materials are by no means comprehensive; they are simply the first step in framing a longer, richer conversation.
The burgeoning LPE movement “begins from the observation that democratic political processes have lost control over fundamental decisions about how resources are allocated in our society” and that “legal doctrines enable champions of capital to subordinate democracy to ‘the free market’.” While many dominant understandings of law operate under a fantasy of politics and economics inhabiting separate spheres, LPE scholars demonstrate that politics and economics are inextricably linked and are always being mediated by legal rules and doctrines. Moreover, scholars working in this vein are seeking to reconnect political conversations about the economic order with questions of dignity, belonging, or “recognition” and to challenge versions of “freedom” or “rights” that ignore or downplay social and economic power.
Through the 1LPE series, we hope to highlight the crucial relevance of these perspectives to the 1L curriculum and to provide an exciting opportunity for individuals interested in these questions to learn and engage with LPE analyses. Whether you’re a 1L currently in these courses, a 2L or 3L who has already taken them, a law professor, a practicing lawyer, or a concerned member of our polity, we hope you will join us in this project by following the series, by participating in the discussion through commenting, submitting a question to Ask Betty, or by reaching out to us at [email protected] if interested in writing a full blog post.