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Weekly Roundup: January 22, 2021


At the Blog

We published a two-part interview of Mari Matsuda by Amna Akbar, exploring everything from the political economy inspirations for Critical Race Theory to how to think about the relationship of the legal academy to movements. Part 1. Part 2.

William Boyd argued that it’s high time LPE-ers reconsidered the institutional infrastructure of pricing in order to take on both neoclassical and Hayekian accounts of “market neutrality” and to reconceptualize how power operates in different forms of market governance.

Angela Harris and Caroline Parker interviewed Abby Reyes about how she teaches climate justice as a form of legal practice.


From Center for Equitable Growth:

As part of our 2021 grant-making, we hope to fund a number of projects at the intersection of macroeconomics and inequality, including (but not limited to) the following specific areas of interest:

  • Whether inequality makes monetary, fiscal, and tax policies less effective, and what the distributional effects of these policies are including across differently sized firms and different demographic groups
  • Macro-finance, including the relationship between inequality and financial markets
  • Macroeconomic impacts of climate change, as well as the benefits and costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Political economy, including the impact of inequality on political institutions, global economic integration, and public policy

I encourage you to look at the Macroeconomics and inequality section of our Request for Proposals and to consider applying. The deadline for submissions is February 7, 2021.

Please email with questions or for more information.

Facing the Anthropocene Series

In the Facing the Anthropocene series, Norman Wirzba interviews leading scholars in political economy, history, anthropology, theology, philosophy, environmental humanities, and law, in order to examine the conditions under which a hopeful future might be imagined.

Alyssa Battistoni is a political theorist and an Environmental Fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. She is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, n+1, The Nation, Dissent, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Jacobin, where she is a member of the editorial board.

Thursday, January 28

12pm Eastern Time

Register Here

Elsewhere on the Internet

Sam Aber

After recently finishing Michael Sherry’s great book on militarization in 20th-century American history, In the Shadow of War, I’ve been thinking a bit about the relationship between “security” politics and the rather busy couple of weeks we’ve had in American politics.

Earlier in the week, the Senate held a hearing with Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III (ret.), the Biden administration’s pick for Secretary of Defense. Much has been written about the further erosion of civilian control of the military that the choice of Austin represents; the basic institutional idea of the Department of Defense, dating back to its origins in the 1947 National Security Act, is, of course, unified civilian control of the armed forces. Less remarked, however, is Austin’s post-retirement affiliation with Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defense contractors and (which is the same) one of the greediest feeders at the trough of the U.S. defense budget. Serving on the boards of defense contractors is unfortunately common for retired generals, but the affiliation nonetheless provided the opportunity for questions about reliance on defense contractors to wage war, as well as the deeply wasteful nature of U.S. military spending—questions which went unasked. (Raytheon came up once, in a question by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.)

What has mainly gotten attention, and justifiably so, about Gen. Austin’s nomination is that he will be the first Black Secretary of Defense. The culture of racism in the army, to say nothing of the underrepresentation of people of color in the officer corps, is well documented. Witness a recently released Pentagon study of racism in the armed forces, suppressed for over three years by the DoD. Certainly this makes General Austin’s career and its recent culmination all the more impressive and significant.

At the same time, it is always odd to see discussions of race within America’s military unaccompanied by the observation that, since World War II (and indeed before), America has tended to use its military in the service of a foreign policy unmistakably colored by the country’s prevailing racial ideology. The observation is certainly not a novel one. Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Muhammad Ali long ago recognized this, and Black soldiers often have. (A 1970 poll found that more than half of Black enlisted men in Vietnam “objected to taking part in the war because they believe it is a race war pitting whites against nonwhites.”) Even more topical, in light of the Capitol riot a couple of weeks ago: Many of those who went on to found the organizational forebears of modern American white nationalism were white veterans who viewed the Vietnam War in similar racial terms—albeit without the same “objections”. I just began Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home, which describes the Vietnam War origins of the American radical right, and makes just this point. 
At the very least, the complex relationship between white racism and United States security policy should make us extremely cautious about calls for new anti-terrorism laws and more funding for the sprawling security state that have arisen in the wake of the events of Jan. 6. Many were rightly incredulous at Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s recent claim that “the post 9/11 era is over” and that “the single greatest national security threat right now is our internal division. The threat of domestic terrorism. The polarization that threatens our democracy.” The trouble is not just that the forever wars continue apace, nor that it is a miserable idea to expand the sphere of unaccountable, executive-centered security politics to include even “polarization” as an object of strategic concern. It is that the idea of turning our attention to “internal” threats belies the fact that, particularly when it comes to race, “internal politics” and “external” policy have always been impossibly entangled.

Derrick Rice

The Biden Administration has, almost immediately, shaken up the federal labor & employment law world. First, after the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) General Counsel, former management-side labor attorney Peter Robb, refused to voluntarily resign at the administration’s request, alleging that his resignation would “set an unfortunate precedent for the labor relations of this country that will permanently undermine the structure and thus the proper functioning of the NLRB and the NLRA,” President Biden fired him. Though the Biden Administration has not formally announced Robb’s replacement yet, this is good news, as the General Counsel is central to an NLRB that has any hopes at pushing for significant, pro-worker labor law reforms. In memoriam to Mr. Robb … check out one of his greatest hits, the Scabby the Rat Saga. This comes along with an executive order directing the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to review all guidance and enforcement efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A bit up north, more than 1,400 workers are striking at the Hunts Point Market, a Bronx food distribution center that supplies most of New York City’s produce. It is heartbreaking (and “upside-down”) that workers need to strike during a pandemic for a $1 wage increase, and enraging to learn that multiple workers have been arrested for their strike activity, but inspiring to see how their collective action has put the spotlight on worker justice in the Bronx and everywhere

Speaking of workers’ rights, check out this excellent report by LPE contributor Prof. Kate Andrias (U. Mich.) and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez on ending at-will employment. The at-will doctrine is a central part of capitalist-oriented, inequality-producing, American employment law exceptionalism. Their report is a very welcome effort to see its demise and replacement. As the authors note, “In no other rich democracy do private-sector businesses have as much latitude to dismiss workers without justification as in the US.” 
Finally, the Biden Administration announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations conducted by the Department of Homeland Security. This is good news for millions of immigrants, families, and communities who, for far too long, have been subject to a trauma-generating, draconian, and inhumane immigration enforcement regime. Still, there are open questions about the scope of this moratorium, as well as what comes next. I found this Twitter thread from immigration lawyer Ahilan Arulanatham helpful in clarifying my thoughts on the former question, and this thread helpful in getting a general understanding of the Administration’s immigration agenda.  

Luke Herrine

I’ve been reading Mike Konczal’s just-released Freedom from the Market, which is an interpretive history of how USian social movements have fought for a version of freedom that is incompatible to forms of social ordering that allocate to those who pay. It’s a good introduction to these issues, including to a lot of basic legal realism!, for non-lawyers and non-political-economists. Though it does underplay the role of race in many of the movements explored. Perhaps we’ll have a series at the Blog…

I’ve also been reading Fahad Ahmad Bishara’s Sea of Debt, which is a history of the law and political economy (Bishara uses exactly that phrase!) of the western Indian Ocean since 1750. It has a lot of careful analysis of how legal institutions structured trading relations, including a fascinating discursus on the evolving role of legal personhood in Islamic law.