Saturday, May 22, 2010

ClassCrits Progressive Rhythm

As reported on the Corporate Justice Blog earlier this week, the Rethinking Economics and the Law After the Great Recession Conference was held at the University of Buffalo Law School on Monday and Tuesday, May 17th and 18th, 2010. Conference Organizer Angela Harris had the following to say about the conference (as memorialized at the Salt Law Blog):

"The workshop was organized by the “class-crits,” a small group of American legal scholars (I count myself as one) who bring the insights of critical legal scholarship to the study of the interrelationships among market and state institutions. Sponsored by the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, an internationally recognized institute at the University at Buffalo that supports the interdisciplinary study of law and social institutions, this year’s class-crits meeting brought legal scholars together with “heterodox” economists. The results were inspiring, exciting — and subversive.

In a recent article, economist James K. Galbraith concludes: “It is . . . pointless to continue with conversations centered on conventional economics. The urgent need is instead to expand the academic space and the public visibility of ongoing work that is of actual value when faced with the many deep problems of economic life in our time.” Galbraith’s conclusion that conventional economics should be abandoned rests in large part on the extraordinary intellectual impoverishment of mainstream economics departments. These departments have largely jettisoned the teaching of history, politics, social theory, and culture in order to pursue what Paul Krugman, in a recent lament titled “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” calls their “desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also [gives them] a chance to show off their mathematical prowess.” This blinkered approach to economics was enthusiastically adopted by the legal academy’s “law and economics” movement, which — thanks to lavish funding by the Olin Foundation and others — produced a generation of Smart White Guys wielding terms like “Pareto optimality” who were uninterested in history, culture, subordination, sociology, psychology, and anything having to do with “distribution.” . . .

For the class-crits, the 2008 crisis offered an opportunity to take Galbraith’s advice and abandon the crumbling edifice of neoclassical economics, along with the rickety shed in its back yard that is “law and economics.” “Rethinking Economics and Law After the Great Recession” invited heterodox economists to sit down with progressive law professors, and the result was a dramatically different conversation. To begin with, the group decided, economics is not “the science of the allocation of scarce resources.” It is the study of social provisioning. Economic activity, therefore, doesn’t take place only in formal markets, but also in families and informal arrangements. Economic activity can’t be made sense of without an understanding of organizations, culture, history, and the state. Our discussion of the financial crisis moved from TARP to massive mortgage fraud to the financial sector’s culture of entitlement to the history of racial discrimination in housing, to the global history of colonialism. And our discussion of the law encompassed a range of state projects, from the regulation of property and corporate personhood to the workings of the administrative state, the economic significance of mass incarceration, the law of the family, immigration law, and questions of access to justice."

To read the entire post by Professor Harris, go here.

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