Category Archives: Economics

Op-ed: “When Affordable Housing Meets Free-Market Fantasy”

Op-ed: Zelda Bronstein, When Affordable Housing Meets Free-Market Fantasy, Dissent Magazine, Nov. 27, 2017. _DSC0316

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New Article: “The Next American Revolution”

New Article: Timothy K. Kuhner, The Next American Revolution, 39 Western New England L. Rev. 477 (2017). Abstract below:

On the whole, the scholarly literature does not go far enough in its understanding of money in politics and corporate political power — ultimately, the role of concentrated capital in democracy. The rising economic and political inequalities affecting the United States are not properly diagnosed as the excesses of a generally legitimate capitalist democracy in need, merely, of legal reforms. Rather, they are the symptoms of an overarching flaw in our political system that requires a revolution — a revolution of the non-violent, constitutional kind.

Action follows understanding. If the understanding of a problem is weak and superficial, the reform agenda will also be weak and superficial. It is true, as the call for papers states, that Supreme Court cases on money in politics “shift power to a new economic royalty.” Rather than an embellishment or exaggeration, however, this is actually the essential starting point for putting today’s plutocracy into its proper historical context, that of despotism, tyranny, and oppression.

Highlighting the thoughts of key historical figures, this essay has two purposes: first, to explore how revolutionary understandings can bring modern-day problems of economic and political inequality into sharper focus; and, second, to reveal the essential thrust of an enduring solution, a constitutional amendment to separate business and state.

New Article: “The Food We Eat and the People Who Feed Us”

New Article: Stephen Lee, The Food We Eat and the People Who Feed Us, Wash. U. L. Rev. forthcoming 2017. Abstract below:

Food justice scholars and advocates have made a simple but important point: for all the attention we pay to the food we eat, we pay far too little attention to the people who feed us. But can law play a role in directing consumer attention to labor-related issues? Traditional food law paradigms provide at best incidental benefits to food workers because these types of laws typically rely on transparency and disclosure schemes that serve narrow consumer-centric interests. An increasing number of laws attempt to disseminate information about the working conditions of the people who pick, process, and produce our food so that consumers can also consider the ethical and moral consequences of their food choices. In assessing this attempt to rebrand labor enforcement in consumer protection terms, this Article does two things. First, this Article identifies the conditions under which such schemes are most likely to succeed. Regulators should target food markets characterized by relative consumer wealth, norm consensus regarding which outcomes are desirable, and an established intermediation infrastructure to give disclosure laws the best chances for improving labor conditions along the food chain. Even where these conditions exist, a second point this Article makes is that disclosure laws should supplement, not supplant, traditional labor enforcement strategies that rely on worker-initiated complaints. This is because certain values, like autonomy, equity, and community standing are best vindicated by the workers themselves instead of by others (like consumers) on their behalf. Crowding out workers from the enforcement process creates the risk of exacerbating the structural forms of inequality that define work across the food system.

New Article: “Agency Law and the New Economy”

Loewenstein, Mark, Agency Law and the New Economy (November 1, 2017). 72 Bus. Law. 1009 (2017); U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-18. [Abstract below]

This article considers the status of workers in the “new economy,” defined as the sharing economy (e.g., Uber, Lyft) and the on-demand economy. The latter refers to the extensive and growing use of staffing companies by established businesses in many different industries to provide all or a portion of their workforce. Workers in both the sharing economy and the on-demand economy are, generally speaking, at a disadvantage in comparison to traditional employees. Uber drivers, for example, are typically considered independent contractors, not employees, and therefore are not covered under federal and state laws that protect or provide benefits to employees. Similarly, employees of a staffing company may consider themselves employees of the client company and, therefore, entitled to negotiate collectively with the client company and receive the same benefits as the client company’s employees, yet the client company may take the position that it is not the employer or even a “joint employer” of such workers. Courts considering the claims of these workers typically look to the common-law definition of “employee,” as legislatures have typically neglected to define “employee” when drafting laws to protect employees. The resulting litigation has generated judicial decisions that are difficult to parse and often treat workers unfairly. This article takes a fresh approach to this problem, considering the shortcomings of the common-law definition and suggesting solutions.

New Article: “Taxing Consumption and the Take-up of Public Assistance: The Case of Cigarette Taxes and Food Stamps”

Kyle Rozema, Nicolas R. Ziebarth, Taxing Consumption and the Take-up of Public Assistance: The Case of Cigarette Taxes and Food Stamps, Univ. Chi. L. Rev. (2017). [Abstract below]

We exploit cigarette tax variation across US states from 2001 to 2012 to show
how taxing inelastic consumption goods can induce low-income households to
enroll in public assistance programs. Using a novel household panel of monthly
food stamp enrollment from the Current Population Survey, we enrich standard
cigarette tax difference-in-differences models with an additional control group:
nonsmoking households. Smoking households are treated with higher taxes,
while nonsmoking households are not. Marginal smoking households respond
to increases in cigarette taxes by taking up food stamps at rates higher than
smoking households in other states and nonsmoking households in the same
state.

New Article: “Social Justice and Capitalism: An Assessment of the Teachings of Pope Francis from a Law and Macroeconomics Perspective”

New Article: Steven A. Ramirez, Social Justice and Capitalism: An Assessment of the Teachings of Pope Francis from a Law and Macroeconomics Perspective, 40 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1229 (2017). Abstract below:

The first part of this Article will synthesize the key teachings of Pope Francis from his most important statements on economic structures and social justice and situate these teachings within contemporary economic realities and traditional social justice teachings. Part II of this Article will demonstrate that the Pope’s teachings on social justice fundamentally reflect the best learning from economists on how to sustain economic growth. Part III of this Article will show that nations that undertake policies to pursue the fundamental tenets of the Pope’s teachings (such as minimizing childhood poverty) also perform the best in achieving high human development outcomes for the mass of their citizens. This Article will therefore conclude that the recent teachings of Pope Francis (and the Catholic Church) on the topics of social justice and the environment are fully consistent with the most robust systems of capitalism in the world today as well as with traditional economic thinking, going as far back as Adam Smith. Therefore, legal policymakers (including all branches and agencies of the government) should work to impound the core elements of these teachings to the maximum extent possible to create the most robust and sustainable capitalism possible.

New Article: “Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income”

Fleischer, Miranda Perry and Hemel, Daniel Jacob, Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income (October 21, 2017). Wisconsin Law Review, Forthcoming; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 17-306. [Abstract below]

Proposals for a universal basic income are generating interest across the globe, with pilot experiments underway or in the works in California, Canada, Finland, Italy, Kenya, and Uganda. Surprisingly, many of the most outspoken supporters of a universal basic income have been self-described libertarians — even though libertarians are generally considered to be antagonistic toward redistribution and a universal basic income is, at its core, a program of income redistribution. What explains such strong libertarian support for a policy that seems so contrary to libertarian ideals?

This Article seeks to answer that question. We first show that a basic safety net is not only consistent with, but likely required by, several strands of libertarian thought. We then explain why libertarians committed to limited redistribution and limited government might support a system of unconditional cash transfers paid periodically. Delivering benefits in cash, rather than in-kind, furthers autonomy by recognizing that all citizens — even poor ones — are the best judges of their needs. Decoupling such transfers from a work requirement acknowledges that the state lacks the ability to distinguish between work-capable and work-incapable individuals. Providing payments periodically, rather than through a once-in-a-lifetime lump sum grant, ensures that all individuals can receive a minimum level of support over lifespans of variable lengths, while also allowing individuals to adjust payment flows through financial market transactions.

Although our main objective is to assess the fit between libertarian theory and a universal basic income, we also address various design choices inherent in any basic income scheme: who should receive it?; how large should it be?; which programs might it replace?; and should it phase out as market income rises? Lastly, we consider the relationship between a basic income and the political economy of redistribution. We find that the case for a basic income as a libertarian “second-best” is surprisingly shaky: libertarians who oppose all redistribution but grudgingly accept a basic income as the least-worst form of redistribution should reconsider both aspects of their position. We conclude by drawing out lessons from our analysis for non-libertarians, regardless of whether they are supportive or skeptical of basic income arguments.

Op-Ed: “The Tax Debate We Need”

Marshall Stienbaum, The Tax Debate We Need, Jacobin, October 20, 2017. [“Progressive taxation curbs the power of the wealthy – and that’s exactly why the Right hates it.”]

Op-Ed: “Mathematics of Inequality”

Taylor McNeil, Mathematics of Inequality, Tufts Now, October 28, 2017. [“Boghosian runs the numbers and shows that without redistribution of wealth, the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer.”]

Op-Ed: “Why Bureaucrats Don’t Seem to Care”

Bernardo Zacka, Why Bureaucrats Don’t Seem to Care, The Atlantic, October 12, 2017. [“A researcher’s reflection on eight months of observing workers at a anti-poverty agency”]