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Weekly Roundup: February 16, 2024


At the Blog

On Monday, Jed Kroncke highlighted an often overlooked legal dimension of American empire: labor in the unincorporated American territories. As he writes, “From Afro-Diasporic laborers building the Panama Canal in the early twentieth-century to contemporary Micronesians trafficked to work in Iowa’s pork industry, territorial labor has been an invisibilized but persistent element of America’s economic rise. What ties these diverse lands together is that they have been the progressive site of nearly two centuries of experimentation with legal forms that allowed America to exert power over such territories while avoiding democratic accountability. In turn, focusing on these legal realities not only helps chart a more complete history of American imperial acquisitions, but also reveals how the misleading distinction between public and private legality often obscures the operation of American empire. Ultimately, this history has always served as both as an indictment of our constitutional tradition and as a harbinger of tactics of legal disempowerment deployed against continental labor.”

And on Wednesday, Megan Wachspress argued that workers could divest their labor from the construction of weaponry by bargaining over who employers sell their products to, or what products employers choose to make. At the outset, this may seem like a challenging position to advance. Under the Supreme Court’s current framework, these choices seemingly fall within the firmest category of management prerogative, and as such, do not qualify as a mandatory subject of bargaining. Wachspress argues, however, that moral injury offers a conceptual framework that workers can invoke to make their complicity in the military-industrial complex a mandatory subject of bargaining. Doctors, for instance, recently invoked their experiences of moral injury, caused by the barriers set up to health care by the U.S. medical system, as a reason for the largest strike of health care workers in U.S. history, the 2023 California Kaiser system strike. Applied to the context of a stereotypical UAW worker, a factory employee would experience moral injury if told she or he must help construct a tank that the worker knows will be put to use to carry out genocidal acts, or be terminated from their position. The decision to make such a product would thus have a “direct impact on employment,” and make it plausibly a mandatory subject of bargaining.

In LPE Land

On Tuesday, February 20th, the LPE Project will be holding the second session of our 6-part open course/reading group “What To Do About The Courts,” cohosted with the People’s Parity Project. In this session, which will be led by Professors Samuel Moyn and William Forbath, we will discuss the history of court reform efforts, including successes, challenges, and lessons for today.

A reminder that applications are due in two weeks (February 29) for the 2024 Law and Organizing Academy. Open to rising 2Ls and 3Ls in the New York area and free to attend, the Academy will take place Monday, May 20 through Thursday, May 23 in upstate New York. The program will include intro sessions on law and organizing, law and political economy, and theories of change; workshop-style training in foundational organizing skills such as power-mapping; discussion and analysis of tenant organizing, campaigns for decarceration, and labor organizing; and much else!

This coming week, the Law and Political Economy Project is thrilled to cosponsor the Neoliberalism and Capitalism as Keywords in Contemporary History Conference, which will take place at Yale University, February 23-25, 2024. The keynote speakers will be Isabella Weber and David Edgerton. For anyone looking to attend the panels, the organizers ask that you register, as papers will be precirculated and space is limited. If you just want to attend the keynotes, registration is not necessary.

The Roosevelt Institute released a hot new report – Industrial Policy 2025: Bringing the State Back In (Again) – in which some of our favorite thinkers discuss the institutions and strategies that are currently missing from US industrial policy.

Speaking about the state, over in the Boston Review, Jonathan S. Blake assesses the stakes of state power and state sovereignty in an overheating world, reviewing books by Philip Pettit, Charles Maier, and Natasha Wheatley.

In case you missed our conference on “Administering a Democratic Political Economy,” you’re in luck: all three panels are now available to watch on our YouTube channel (we’re youtube influencers now; this is us, influencing you).