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Weekly Roundup, September 11, 2020


This week at The Blog

we hosted the first three posts of a symposium on Stephanie Kelton’s The Deficit Myth.

Emma Caterine kicked off the symposium with a meditation on the purpose of taxes for the “general welfare” once one accepts that taxes don’t raise revenue, drawing inspiration from the unexpected source of Chief Justice John Roberts.

Raúl Carrillo took the opportunity to debunk a friendly critique of Kelton’s framework from fellow Post-Keynesian J.W. Mason. Carrillo argues it is mistaken that MMT does not have an account of “private” money creation–it’s just an account that depends on legal realism.

Ashley Burke explored the implications of MMT for thinking about the value of a federal housing guarantee.

And our selections from elsewhere on the internet….

Luke Herrine

I’ve been mourning the brilliant anthropologist, social theorist, and anarchist activist David Graeber, who died suddenly last week. The New York Review of Books has been hosting a chorus of short eulogies, organized by Astra Taylor, with a contribution by yours truly. Expect some further tributes to David here at The Blog in the coming weeks.

Especially fitting for this anniversary: I’ve been listening to Blowback, a podcast about the Iraq War created by Brendan James and Noah Kulwin. It does an excellent job providing historical context, exploring just how mendacious and craven the push for war was, and just how terribly and idiotically it was carried out. And it’s not your typical informal two-people-in-a-room talking podcast: they include archival audio, interviews with an Iraqi journalist, and even dramatic reenactments in which Saddam Hussein is voiced by the great H. Jon Benjamin. It has been especially powerful as a way of revisiting my political youth, before I came to reckon with the deep brokenness of our political system.

At the Events page, we just posted an announcement for a fascinating-looking conference on “Inframarginalism and the Internet”, exploring the wealth-distributive aspects of markets and/or how the internet has changed them. I’ll be there: perhaps you should be, too!

Sarang Shah

I’ve been reading Marx lately, in particular, his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, his review of Bruno Bauer’s On the Jewish Question, and his Critique of the Gotha Program. In the above texts, Marx explores the concept of alienation and its relationship to both labor and commodity production, and to the inherent inability for bourgeois liberal rights to ever achieve true human emancipation. I’ll admit, I was plenty confused at first, as many are reading Marx for the first (or second, or third, or…time). And it isn’t just the smoke.  My aim has been to clarify for myself the extent to which I believe law is merely an instrument of the bourgeois class or formal and autonomous. Luckily for me, I was recommended an essay by Isaac Balbus titled “Commodity Form and Legal Form: An Essay on the ‘Relative Autonomy’ of the Law.” Balbus argues quite convincingly that the categories of formal versus instrumental are misleading. Instead, Balbus argues that  the “legal form” (another name for law based on bourgeois, liberal rights) is alienated twice-over, much like the “commodity form,” since  both forms are the result of processes that seek to make unequal things equal. As a result, a person is separated from both the things they make and consume and also their fellow human beings through law. By understanding law as alienated, we can better envision what law could look like in a post-capitalist world more conducive to human self-realization.

Phew, ok, don’t take my word on any of the above, just go read the article while I hold a struggle session with myself on what this all means.

As for more contemporary writing, I just read Brian Callaci’s latest draft essay on the history of franchisee and small business organizing in the United States. Callaci highlights some of the reasons why small businesses have wound up siding with big business against workers, but also how sometimes these small businesses have formed alliances with workers too, or at the very least, sought to vindicate their own interests as franchisees. Intriguingly, the paper concludes on an auspicious note regarding a possible emerging alliance between gig workers and 7-11 franchisees in support of California’s AB5. Whatever strategic alliance can be made among employees of all type, even franchisees, the more likely an antimonopoly movement can succeed in the United States these coming years.

Lydia Nicholson

Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco published a really great report on homelessness and suggested policy initiatives (if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, the link includes a summary). I haven’t had the chance to read the whole thing yet, but I love that it focuses on unhoused people who are trans as well as just generally centering the voices and experiences of those most impacted. A really great example of empowering community research. 

Meanwhile in San Francisco…the fires rage on. If you haven’t yet, now is the time Mike Davis’ case for letting Malibu burn. The fires are also a tragic and urgent argument for returning the land to its original indigenous caretakers right now. 
To end with some hope for tenant power, the Autonomous Tenants Union Network encouraged tenants unions across the country to conduct outreach this past Labor Day and there was a great turnout. While confusing laws like the CDC order nationally, or AB 1488 in California are coming out, we need tenant advocates on the ground explaining to their neighbors what is going on and how to stay protected.

Caroline Parker

The West is on fire and I feel mournful. Mournful for asthmatic workers and destroyed schools and lost photographs, but also for trees and the millions of animals who are dying in excruciating pain. I am thinking how we, as lawyers, as law students, as leftists, can talk seriously about our relationship with the natural world while avoiding the misanthropy that taints so much conservation work. As Doug Kysar (and Jed Purdy and long-ago Laurence Tribe) has written, contemporary environmental law is a let down here. Dominated by cost-benefit analysis, law codes the natural world in terms of potential risk or utility for humans. It doesn’t recognize the intrinsic value of trees outside the neoliberal (& homocentric) frame. What instead? Read Troy Vettese’s Marxist Theory of Extinction. “Humanity’s relationship to nature should be guided by humility, empathy, and restraint.”

Anna Wherry

Overdose deaths have been increasing during the pandemic. This thread from the Drug Policy Alliance makes the case for incorporating harm reduction into pandemic response and our public health policies. Relatedly, this fantastic forum on public health professors and leaders on how, empirically, social justice is good for health. 
Not on my beat, but I was fascinated to read that Portland banned facial recognition technology, joining Oakland, San Francisco, and Boston, citing racial justice concerns.