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Weekly Roundup: January 12, 2024


At the Blog

On Monday, Amy Kapczynski kicked off what promises to be another great year at the blog (wait, what’s that? It’s a presidential election year, already? Well, nevertheless) by examining the campus free speech wars from a political economy perspective. As she argues, recent attacks on the university have little to do with defending free speech or academic virtues. Instead, they are part of an organized rightwing campaign to delegitimize universities, which, at their best, can hold open space for thinking that challenges existing ideas and power structures.

After explaining how a well-funded conservative outrage machine amplifies and distorts what are often anodyne campus incidents, Kapczynski argues that broader transformations in the political economy of higher education have made universities particularly vulnerable to these attacks. As she writes, “the real protectors of free speech on campus are structural: they are commitments to security of employment and protection from political retaliation, the resources and support for teachers and students to engage in critical inquiry together – not subsumed to the kinds of immediate demands that shape the marketplace or the profit motive – and the capacity to take ideas seriously and invite criticism in a spirit of openness. All of these have been under assault in the past several decades, as the ratio of untenured faculty has risen, as retrenchment in state funding has put vastly more of the costs of education onto learners, and as broader economic insecurity and debt have pushed students to think of themselves as human capital and their education as an ‘investment.’ Universities have also made themselves enormously reliant on wealthy benefactors who sometimes successfully use their power directly to influence decisions on hiring, firing, and curriculum.” The real question we should be asking University Presidents and Deans, as well as of one another, is what kind of programs and campaigns can address the rapid erosion of interest in and support for higher education in America.

On Wednesday, Scott Cummings and Madeline Janis explained how a little known Reagan-era competition rule continues to block state and local governments from using federal grants to support companies that hire local workers, pay livable wages, or use clean fuel sources. Instead, all contracts using federal grant funds must be awarded through a “competitive bidding” process that privileges low price over all other criteria.

As Cummings and Janis note, the history of this rule is quite ugly: In the 1980s, New York City adopted a law that imposed sanctions on companies invested in the South African apartheid regime. In response, corporations profiting from South African investments lobbied the Reagan administration to shut down local sanction regimes. Because transportation and infrastructure projects often relied on federal funds, one legal avenue to restrict sanction laws was to withhold funding on the theory that, by awarding projects to higher priced anti-apartheid contractors, state and local governments were imposing substantive bid requirements that violated the competition rule. The OLC issued an opinion to that effect, which outlawed the inclusion of substantive bid criteria that could potentially interfere with contracting at the “lowest possible price.” However, as Cummings and Janis convincingly show, the OLC’s interpretation of the rule is unsupported by the legal history and underlying policy rationale of federal law. By re-interpreting this rule, the Biden Administration can empower local communities to help build a sustainable economy.

In LPE Land

On Tuesday, January 23rd at 12:10 – 1:10 PM, please join the LPE Project (that’s us!) for a lunch talk with sociologist, advocate, and policymaker Nikhil Goyal. Dr. Goyal will be in conversation with Professor Samuel Moyn to discuss his latest work, Live to See the Day: Coming of Age in American Poverty, hailed as “A Best Book of 2023” by The New Yorker. This event will be available in a hybrid format at Yale Law School (Room 120). To participate in person please register here; and to join online please sign up here.

On Friday, February 2nd, please join the LPE Project (hey, that’s us again!) for a one-day conference, titled “Administering a Democratic Political Economy.” This convening brings together scholars in administrative law, racial and gender equity, and democracy for an in-depth exploration of the evolving landscape of administrative law scholarship and practice. This conference will take place in a hybrid format at Yale Law School (SLB 120). Those wishing to attend in person can register here. For virtual attendance, please register at this link.

Cool job alert: The History and Political Economy Project invites applications for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship, beginning July 1, 2024, to support their public engagement and scholarly programs. Applications due Feb 1.

In the Boston Review, Sabeel Rahman argues that how we implement Biden’s signature pieces of legislation—and how we theorize and organize new systems of governance around them—will determine whether we succeed in bringing about a durable shift from decades of neoliberal orthodoxy.

In a new article in the Harvard Law Review, Melissa Murray and Katherine Shaw interrogate Dobbs’s claim to vindicate principles of democracy, examining both the intellectual pedigree of this claim and its substantive vision of democracy.

In the Nation, Sandeep Vaheesan and Tara Pincock argue that the next antitrust action against Amazon should target its domination of the book market.

On the hit podcast Inside Yale Law, Amy Kapczynski discusses her work on global health and justice issues and explains how intellectual property law can improve access to lifesaving AIDS drugs.