New Book Chapter: Martha T. McCluskey, Personal Responsibility for Systemic Inequality, in RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON POLITICAL ECONOMY AND THE LAW, Ugo Mattei and John D. Haskell, eds., pp. 227-45 (Edward Elgar 2015). Abstract below:
Equality has faded as a guiding ideal for legal theory and policy. An updated message of personal responsibility has helped rationalize economic policies fostering increased inequality and insecurity. In this revised message, economic “losers” should take personal responsibility not only for the harmful effects of their individual economic decisions, but also for the harmful effects of systemic failures beyond their individual control or action. In response to the 2008 financial crisis, this re-tooled message of personal responsibility promoted mass austerity in place of targeted financial industry culpability and penalty. By presenting unequal economic loss as the inevitable result of generally beneficial systems, this flawed logic concludes that the most legitimate response to systemic failure is unequal personal sacrifice, not political mobilization in support of stronger protection from unequal risk and plunder.
This chapter explores how this message weakened the majority report of Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, despite its voluminous evidence of institutional problems. Further, it shows how this message inverts legal responsibility for devastating corporate wrongdoing, so that sacrifice by innocent victims appears to be more productive and proper than fair and meaningful law enforcement. Finally, I analyze how this troubling message is implicitly advanced in the seemingly progressive intellectual defense of equality by legal scholar Daniel Markovits. Markovits challenges the traditional personal responsibility argument that unequal poverty and insecurity stem from bad individual choices. Yet because he assumes that this inequality generally comes from benign institutions limited by natural scarcity, his reasoning nonetheless tends to suggest that responsible policy requires accepting substantial individual sacrifice by those who lose out. To instead revive the ideal of equality, we must go further to challenge the assumption that political economic structures and institutions regularly producing unequal and severe economic harm deserve submission rather than reform.
Conservative Coverage of Rural Poverty: Kevin D. Williamson, “The White Ghetto,” The National Review, Jan. 9, 2014.
NOTE: for reasons that will be clear if you read this, I hesitated to post this article. But I do think it could be good material for a classroom discussion and manages to be interesting at times and regardless of your political leanings also offensive at other times.
Here: Re-evaluating the “Culture of Poverty” » The Society Pages [featuring Mark Gold, Kaaryn Gustafson, and Mario Luis Small].
Report: Marc Mauer & Virginia McCalmont, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact of the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits (Sentencing Project, Revised version 2014).
Ford Destroys Cadillac’s Rich Guy Ad – Business Insider.
[Both the Cadillac ad and this Ford ad could be good in the classroom as a way to talk about U.S. belief systems regarding the poor and work.]
I have been resisting posting this for a while because I wanted to finish reading it, and with 5 long articles, it is a long series. But it is worth reading! I plan on using it in my housing law class and suggesting it in my poverty law class.
Andrea Elliot, Invisible Child, New York Times, Dec. 2013, http://nytimes.com/invisiblechild.
(As an aside, Bloomburg’s response is here.)
News Article: Sheryl Gay Stolberg, On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2013.
New Article: Ilan Wurman, Note, Drug Testing Welfare Recipients as a Constitutional Condition, 65 Stan. L. Rev. 1153 (2013). Abstract below:
This Note challenges the prior and current scholarship on suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients, and the Supreme Court’s special needs doctrine more broadly, by applying the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions to the cases. It contends that the Fourth Amendment’s special needs doctrine is insufficient, because conditioning welfare benefits on drug testing may fail the special needs test but still be a constitutional condition. This Note argues that, where the unconstitutional conditions doctrine could otherwise apply, the doctrine is in fact necessary to apply; that doing so resolves certain contradictions and fictions that currently exist in the Fourth Amendment doctrine, while better explaining some of the Fourth Amendment cases; and that conditioning welfare on drug testing is more likely to be constitutional under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine than under the current Fourth Amendment approach, which would instead stop the inquiry with the special needs doctrine.
New Article: Bridgette Baldwin, Shadow Works and Shadow Markets: How Privatization of Welfare Services Produces an Alternative Market, 34 Western New England L. Rev. 445 (2012). Abstract below:
The Author attempts to fuse Ivan Illich’s misplaced ideas of gender roles with how privatization of welfare services has legitimized a shadow economy and work through mandated community service jobs. The Article provides a historical perspective of how social services were handled, leading to the current cost/benefit legacy of welfare privatization utilized by the Wisconsin Works program (W-2). Wisconsin’s program requires women recipients to engage in volunteer work, creating a subsidized labor force for private agencies based on the presumption that work, even meaningless and menial tasks, establishes job-readiness for women on welfare. The Author suggests that we need to begin thinking about how to recreate the framework for providing public services. The community service component of W2 and its actual function powerfully demonstrates how W-2 mothers have become a reserve labor force. But at the same time the contours of W-2 make reserve labor status profitable, not for the mothers, but for the sub-contracted agencies. The relationship between W-2 mothers, the status of community service, and the position of sub-contracted agencies have generated a shadow market as a consequence of welfare privatization. The ways in which these women are held captive to a world without work, a world without skill building, and limited ways out become the grounds upon which sub-contracting agencies generate profit. Under the shroud of “cost effectiveness,” private agencies are reaping the financial windfall of “pimping” the state based on their ability to market their skills at converting welfare mothers into low-wage workers.