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Weekly Roundup: April 21, 2023


At the Blog

On Monday, Andrew Crespo explained why the American penal system is astonishingly vulnerable to the threat of defendant collective action. Major city court systems, which only have the capacity to bring to trial about 3 percent of the cases they handle, are dependent on plea bargaining to remain minimally functional. If even a small percentage of criminal defendants simply refused to plead guilty, the entire system would come grinding to a halt. As he writes, “Labor organizers need thirty percent of the workers at a given job site to sign union cards in order to trigger a union election. They need to win over fifty percent of all workers at the site to form a union. And, as Jane McAlevey writes, for ‘strikes to be successful in the United States, they require no less than 90 percent participation of workers.’ By contrast, a mere three percent of criminal defendants in a given courthouse could bring their local penal system to its knees. If that many defendants banded together and refused to plead guilty, they could immediately double the trial rate in that courthouse (from three percent to six percent). This would massively expand the resource demands on a system that is already operating at full capacity. There is not a major court system in the country that could absorb such a shock.”

On Wednesday, Jedidah Kroncke kicked off a symposium on China and the Political Economy of the International Legal Order. There is, he argues, an urgent need to develop a genuine critical left internationalism to help think through issues related to China. Yet engaging this subject from an LPE perspective confronts two broad challenges. First, it requires bringing LPE concepts into conversation with debates regarding the diverse legal underpinnings of the global economic order. Second, it requires developing a left internationalism that embraces a non-U.S.-centric anti-imperialist position, moving beyond limited Cold War imaginaries. As he writes, “On one hand, we are witnessing the rapid disavowal of modernization theories, which linked economic liberalization to democratic development and which underpinned the teleological justifications for the spread of capitalism in illiberal contexts. Such a developmental path was powerfully projected onto China by the full panoply of mainstream political thought in the U.S. in the post-1978 era. On the other hand, many critical left perspectives continue to embrace an inverse distortion—that China somehow represents an oppositional position in the global order promoting social democratic values or a coherent set of national institutions embracing economic democracy. However one normatively judges China’s rapid post-1978 rise in living standards, these improvements were achieved through means hardly antagonistic to the international capitalist order.”

 And, on Thursday, Vincent Wong continued the symposium by explaining how the lens of racial capitalism can help us better understand the violent subordination of Uyghurs and other non-Han native people’s in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and why, more generally, we should seek to deprovincialize the idea of racial capitalism. As he writes, “it is important to keep in mind that the idea of racial capitalism itself is neither an idea somehow restricted to U.S., nor an idea that can be provincialized solely within the processes and structures of Western colonial and neo-colonial expropriation and exploitation. Rather, as Robinson sets out in his historical and materialist analysis of intra-European racial constructions, examining the very origins of capitalism reveals its inherent tendency to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into ‘racial’ ones to justify violent inequalities. This analysis foregrounds racial capitalism’s contingency as an organizing principle on a global scale—one that is sharpened through colonial encounters, and continually reproduced in new ways that legitimize social hierarchy under ongoing processes of capital accumulation.”

In LPE Land

Over at the Syllabus, Evgeny Morozov and Ekaitz Cancela interviewed Amy Kapczynski about how law and neoliberalism changed each other. We rate this interview five out of five Ipods.

This coming Monday, for Karen Tani will delivering the Ray Ginger lecture at Brandeis about her groundbreaking work on disability rights and US law. This is a hybrid event. To register, email

Also, on Monday, Kathryn Sabbeth, Frederick Wherry, and Daniel Wilf-Townsend will be speaking to the Princeton LPE group about how economic power shapes law & justice in our civil legal system.

Cool paper alert: Sanjukta Paul has posted a draft of a new paper, “Methodological and Normative Elements of the New Antitrust.”

The Poverty and Race Research Action Council released a new issue, guest edited by Jamilia Michener, on racial capitalism, tenant power, and social housing. Featuring essays by John Whitlow, Tara Raghuveer & John Washington, Cea Weaver, and more!

Cool Job alert: The FTC is hiring an Attorney Advisor to the Chair to work on consumer protection issues.