Economic inequality

  • November 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Brishen Rogers, Associate Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s Symposium on Labor and Economic Inequality.

    America’s inequalities are outrageous – and are suddenly all the rage. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and various social movements have given us a new language to dissect it: the “99 percent,” “r > g,” the “Fight for $15,” and “Uberization.” Policy professionals are taking note, with the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and various foundations funding research into its causes and consequences. Even Silicon Valley is talking seriously about a universal basic income.

    This is all to the good. And yet the debate is tepid in an important respect: It largely disregards the relationship between inequality and democratic participation. Granted, many criticize our campaign finance laws for tilting the playing field toward the rich. But the economic policy debate largely revolves around forms of tax-and-transfer. Picketty, for example, ultimately proposes little more than a global wealth tax. A universal basic income, for all its virtues, takes the same form.

    But aggressive campaign finance reform and a far more progressive tax code – even if politically possible – cannot ensure equality. The reason is simple: To succeed, egalitarian policies must be intertwined with more democratic economic and social structures. The good news, as discussed below, is that the rise of information technology is creating new opportunities to build a more inclusive democracy.

  • November 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Noah Zatz, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s Symposium on Labor and Economic Inequality.

    Three vibrant movements of our time are Black Lives Matter, theDREAMers, and Fight for $15. For many progressives, only the last may seem directed at our topic of work and inequality. That intuition is wrong. Legalized state violence – incarceration, deportation, even killing – can and does depress labor standards and enable workplace exploitation (and vice versa).

    We too often separate struggles against racialized state violence from those challenging economic inequality. The former seem to be about the public exercises of government power, while the latter seem to be about private exercises of corporate power. This is both an analytical error and a missed political opportunity.

    Think of criminal justice, immigration, and labor as three points of a triangle. Activists and academics increasingly link mass incarceration and mass deportation, especially as immigration enforcement is criminalized. Likewise, the government’s threat to detain and deport has been linked to employer power. Guest workers face deportation if they exercise the most basic labor right, the right to quit, and undocumented workers labor under employer threats to call in immigration enforcement. Employers use this power to disrupt organizing, degrade working conditions, and depress wages.

    An incarceration-labor connection parallels this immigration-labor connection. This connection mirrors the thoroughly racialized ways that immigration policy produces workplace disadvantage. That historical pattern continues today as Latina/os and others treated as presumptively “foreign” face profiling by employers and government authorities. Similarly, racism has long structured criminal justice in the U.S. From defining what is a crime to the notorious cocaine sentencing disparities, from the frequency of police stops to searches to uses of force, the criminal justice system casts an especially dark shadow over communities of color, and not by coincidence.

  • July 31, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    In the current political climate, the idea that Congress should pass legislation redistributing wealth and resources is met with abhorrence by conservatives and, often, with apathy by liberals. This was not always the case, argues William Forbath, Associate Dean for Research and Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law at the University of Texas School of Law. At one time, liberals widely viewed economic inequality as a constitutional issue and believed redistributive measures were not only permissible, but constitutionally required to ensure the equal protection of the laws and to promote the general welfare.

    In an interview with ACSblog, Forbath explains that today’s liberals have come to think the Constitution does not speak to the redistribution of resources. This contradicts the views of key historical lawmakers who discussed anti-trust, banking, currency and trade as constitutional issues and who viewed Congress as constitutionally obliged to promote the country’s broad economic wellbeing through redistributive policies. Forbath adds that even before the Equal Protection Clause appeared in the federal Constitution, state constitution guarantees of equal protection focused on protecting the poor from legislation that favored economic elites. “The Constitution needs safeguards against oligarchy,” he asserts. “Ours is an anti-oligarchy Constitution.”

    Noting America’s shrinking middle class and diminishing equality of opportunity, Forbath concludes that “these older generations were right . . . You can’t keep a constitutional democracy or a republican form of government with boundless inequality. You can’t keep it without a broad middle class. You can’t keep it alongside an oligarchic, entrenched economic elite.” Instead he, along with fellow University of Texas Law Professor Joseph Fishkin, promotes a return to the idea that we have a “Constitution of opportunity” ― one that supports a robust middle class and ensures opportunity for all, not just the privileged.

    Watch the full interview here or below.


  • July 24, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    Some talk this week centered on the issue of reforming the U.S. Supreme Court, with one irresponsible proposal gaining moderate attention, but Erwin Chemerinsky has been talking about fixing the Supreme Court for years.  In an interview with ACSblog, Chemerinsky ‒ the Distinguished Professor of Law and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law ‒ describes the Supreme Court’s greatest failures and proposes responsible solutions.

    Chemerinsky recalls the Lochner Era ‒ a period during which the high court struck down more than 200 laws enacted to protect consumers and employees, using the rationale that such laws interfere with freedom of contract. While the Lochner Era ended nearly a century ago, Chemerinsky explains that today’s Roberts Court “is the most pro-business Supreme Court that we’ve had since the mid-1930s.”

    This claim, as Chemerinsky notes, is backed up by empirical studies. From restricting the availability of class action suits and favoring binding arbitration to weakening the influence of unions, the Roberts Court has consistently sided with corporations over consumers and employees—all while refusing to recognize poverty as a suspect classification and determining that education is not a fundamental right.

    Chemerinsky offers reasonable proposals, such as imposing 18-year nonrenewable term limits, allowing cameras inside the Court and insisting that the justices conform to the same ethical standards, particularly with regard to recusal, as judges on other courts.

    Watch the full interview here or below.

  • July 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Mary Kelly Persyn, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

    “Law serves human values.” 

    Hon. Peter Rubin, ACS founder and (since 2008) justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, in an address to the Columbia Law School ACS Student Chapter, January 19, 2006.

    From its founding, ACS has advocated for true equality of opportunity, the taproot of American democracy. Rejecting the formal equality yielded by more conservative readings of our Constitution and laws, instead we seek equity—an authentically fair chance for all.

    But equity evades easy solutions, and inequity is spread so broadly across so many dimensions it’s difficult to know where to start. The answer, as I’ve written previously in this space, may well lie in approaches informed by collective impact—a modern Archimedes’ lever. Consider the work of Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., MPH, FAAP, a pediatrician who started a clinic in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco following her residency at Stanford. On Thursday, July 2, Dr. Burke Harris visited Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to address an audience filled with United Way of the Bay Area Women’s Leadership Council members, ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter members, and their guests.

    The Bayview is a neighborhood rich in family and community ties. But it is poor in resources and health, and suffers one of the the highest crime rates in the city. After Dr. Burke Harris opened the Bayview Child Health Center, she began to see the links links between early childhood adversity and health. She began to see children coming to the clinic with high rates of asthma, ADHD, and other childhood illnesses at many times the rate of the general population. “Doctora,” one of her patients explained, “it seems like my daughter’s asthma is worse when her daddy punches a hole in the wall.” That’s obviously terrifying for a child—but why would asthma follow?

    As Dr. Burke Harris recounts, the answer materialized when a colleague came to her with the 1998 Kaiser study called “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or ACEs. This  was the “aha” moment that would ultimately change the course of her career and lead to creation of the Center for Youth Wellness.