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Bill Henderson – The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector (037)

Link to an article by Bill Henderson:

“The Decline of the PeopleLaw Sector (037)”

 

This article conveys some useful factual information, but the commentary is troublingly limited.  The article states, “Our legal system as it pertains to ordinary people is unraveling.  *** No amount of tinkering at the edges is going to fix or reverse these trends. Instead, we need a series of fundamental redesigns.”  It then proceeds to suggest…tinkering at the edges.  The fundamental problem with the article is that it depoliticizes a fundamentally political issue, and then proceeds to suggest at most technocratic fixes at the edges that don’t touch the underlying political question.  That question?  Well, anti-labor, pro-business and pro-finance policies are at the heart of the so-called neo-liberal political project, inaugurated by things like the Trilateral Commission’s report warning about an “excess of democracy” or the infamous Powell Memo.  The decline of what Henderson calls the “PeopleLaw Sector” is just a small corollary to the intended political policies of neo-liberalism, which tends to be just a financialized version of the exclusionary logic of liberalism — which has always promoted economic polarization.  Anyway, the root problem is the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of corporations and a small plutocratic elite.  Lawyers (like so many others!) generally follow the money, and also seek prestige, and most lawyers won’t be swayed by exhortations and moral chiding to forego money and prestige.  And frankly, the economic base for them to do so is shaky and limited without changes to the economy that are only possible in the realm of politics.  Henderson links to an article by Deborah Merritt, which further emphasizes minor technocratic fixes, mostly surrounding law school education.  Neither article addresses the problem of decreasing public funding for schools, including law schools, which has the (intended) effect of pushing lawyers to accept corporate jobs to pay off the staggering tuition costs (increasingly pushed away from the state and onto students). Pierre Bourdieu usefully developed the metaphor of the left hand and the right hand of the state to make a similar point.

Henderson is correct, to a point, that “we are either going to redesign our legal institutions or they will fail.”  (Assuming he means they fail for most people; the current institutions are quite effective for the so-called “1%” [or really the “0.001%”] at present).  But redesigns to legal institutions without large redesigns of political institutions that shape the overall economy will produce no long-term changes.  But of course, Henderson doesn’t seem to want that.  He writes about finding “creative ways to restore the balance.”  What historical balance, precisely, is he referring to?  Is this yet another (implied) invocation of the “Keynesian” post-WWII “golden years” of prosperity, which depended on things like the destruction of industrial capacity in much of the world, racial discrimination, sexism/patriarchy, financial imperialism, wanton environmental destruction, etc.?  I don’t think there was a time in the past that we can say had anything close to a reasonable “balance” in the American legal system.  Reference to “balance” is just coded language in a way parallel to the slogan “Make America great again.”

I guess, in short, my major concern is that Henderson seems to suggest narrowly framing symptoms of class warfare in the legal sector as root problems that permit sufficient technocratic fixes solely within the legal sector, bracketing out the larger society-wide political dimension of class warfare (and avoiding a class-based materialist analysis in general) that better explains the origins of the (very real) downstream symptoms he chronicles in the legal sector.  For the kind of analysis I would like to see Henderson engage in, see Jeffrey Reiman’s …And the Poor Get Prison (which deals just with criminal justice).  

Matt Bruenig & Ryan Cooper – How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth

Link to an article by Matt Bruenig & Ryan Cooper:

“How Obama Destroyed Black Wealth”

 

As is typical for writing in Jacobin, this article includes a section at the end that draws conclusions unsupported by the body of the article.  For example, the authors state, “No political obstacle stood between President Obama and a better housing policy.”  The article does not address political factors at all, so this is a bald assertion without support.  It also is questionable.  While certain other studies have established how the Democrats during Obama’s era have courted Wall Street and other banking/finance donors, if you follow (for example) Thomas Ferguson‘s “Golden Rule” theory about “investment” in elections, which holds (in greatly simplified form) that politicians are vetted by moneyed interests and masses are too poor to be able to influence the choices offered in an election, then the authors would need to establish that Obama could have raised the same or more money elsewhere (Bernie Sanders’ small donor approach seems like the closest and easiest comparison point).  This also requires an assumption that Obama and the Democrats care/cared about long-term consequences, rather than limiting themselves to short-term thinking (e.g., sacrificing the future for a near-term win) — which is normative.  That criticism aside, the linked article does do a good job illustrating how the problem discussed is fundamentally political in character.

Slavoj Žižek – Alt-right Trump Supporters and Left-wing Bernie Sanders Fans Should Join Together to Defeat Capitalism

Link to an article by Slavoj Žižek:

“Alt-right Trump Supporters and Left-wing Bernie Sanders Fans Should Join Together to Defeat Capitalism”

Bonus quote:

“The fear not to make any compromises with the alt-right can muddy the degree to which we are already compromised by it. One should greet every sign of this self-critical reflection which is gradually emerging and which, while remaining thoroughly anti-fascist, casts also a critical glance on the weaknesses of the liberal left.

***

“The obscenity of the situation is breath-taking: global capitalism is now presenting itself as the last protection against fascism, and if you try to point this out you are accused of complicity with fascism.”

“Today’s Anti-fascist Movement Will Do Nothing to Get Rid of Right-wing Populism – It’s Just Panicky Posturing”

 

Bonus link: “Why We All Love to Hate Haider”

Jodi Dean – The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism

Link to a video of a lecture by Jodi Dean:

“The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism”

Bonus quote:

“In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity derives from its expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes.

***

“If we are honest, we have to admit that there is actually no such thing as social media. Digital media is class media. Networked communication does not eliminate hierarchy, as we believed, in entrenches it as it uses our own choices against us.

***

“Dispossession, rather than happening all at once, is an ongoing process. No one will deny the ongoingness of data dispossession. Sometimes it is blatant: the announcement that our call will be monitored for quality assurance, the injunctions to approve Apple’s privacy changes again or the necessity of renewing passwords and credit card information. Sometimes the ongoingness is more subtle; in maps, GPS signals, video surveillance, and the RFID tags on and in items we purchase. And sometimes the ongoingness is completely beyond our grasp, as when datasets are combined and mined so as to give states and corporations actionable data for producing products, patterns, and policies based on knowing things about our interrelations one to another that we do not know ourselves. Here the currents of lives as they are lived are frozen into infinitely separable, countable, and combinatory data-points.

“Approached in terms of class struggle, big data looks like further escalation of capital’s war against labor.”

“Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle”

 

Bonus links: C.T. Kurien, “The Market Economy: Theory, Ideology and Reality” and Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform and Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism and Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex and Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks and Victor Pickard, “Net Neutrality Is Just the Beginning” and “The Collapse of Media and What You Can Do About It” (this article discusses the “breaking” of a self-described “exclusive” story in January 2015 that was for the most part already suggested in When Google Met Wikileaks published in September 2014, though this story was certainly fleshed out further by the later report; this also was used as a plot point in the film Jason Bourne)