A Treasure-Trove of Data on Inequality

Guido Alfani, Economic Inequality in Preindustrial Times: Europe and Beyond, 59 J. Econ. Lit. 3 (2021).

One of the hottest issues in fiscal policy today is how to reduce economic inequality. Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell have famously asserted (here and here) that redistribution should be limited to the tax system. Edward Kleinbard urged a more expansive consideration of tax and transfer systems, admitting the possibility of regressive taxation to fund progressive spending. Daniel Hemel has raised the possibility of considering distributive consequences in cost-benefit analysis generally, not merely in the tax and transfer context – a move that President Biden authorized on his first day in office. I have argued that we cannot understand inequality without understanding a society’s nontax extractive rules – what I call “implicit taxation.” A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed claims, by contrast, that: “Not only is income inequality in America not growing, it is lower today than it was 50 years ago.” The op-ed reports a current U.S. income Gini index, after federal taxes and transfers, of less than 0.34, lower than the corresponding figure for 1970, when the top marginal income tax rate was 71.75%. (The Gini is a measure of inequality. A Gini of 0 means perfect equality; a Gini of 1 means perfect inequality.)

To date, this debate has been based primarily on data from the 19th and 20th centuries. In Economic Inequality in Preindustrial Times: Europe and Beyond, Guido Alfani reviews a new and rapidly expanding literature on wealth and income inequality in earlier eras and explores implications of that literature for existing theories of the causes and sources of inequality. Continue reading "A Treasure-Trove of Data on Inequality"

Nuisance, and Covenants, and Zoning, Oh My!

Maureen E. Brady, Turning Neighbors Into Nuisances, 134 Harv. L. Rev. 1609 (2021).

She has done it again! With her new article, Turning Neighbors into Nuisances, Professor Molly Brady once more takes us back into history to enrich our current understanding of property concepts.

Three years ago, I wrote a Jot about Professor Brady’s article, The Damagings Clauses.1 That introduction to her work has vastly informed my scholarship on eminent domain and inverse condemnation and I again recommend it to you. In addition, among several other articles, Brady published a piece in 2019, The Forgotten History of Metes and Bounds,2 which contains a compelling history of this method of property demarcation and the social functions it served to encourage development.

In Turning Neighbors Into Nuisances, she examines how tort law, contracts, and regulation interacted with each other and evolved into the system of land use regulation we know today. Continue reading "Nuisance, and Covenants, and Zoning, Oh My!"

Securing Essential Work for Low Wage Workers

Deepa Das Acevedo, Essentializing Labor Before, During, and After the Coronavirus Epidemic, 52 Ariz. St. L.J. 1091 (2020).

The COVID crisis comes at a time of transition and peril for low wage workers, exposing and exacerbating their vulnerability under United States labor and employment law. The crisis also provides an opportunity for reimagining the state’s responsibility towards low wage workers. Even before the pandemic, in today’s gig economy an increasing number of workers lack any certainty about, and control over, their working lives. In Essentializing Labor Before, During, and After the Coronavirus Epidemic, Deepa Das Acevedo uses the COVID crisis to illustrate how the baseline at-will employment rules contribute to the precarity of the lives of low wage workers. Das Acevedo advocates rejecting the at-will doctrine to address that precarity.

In Essentializing Labor, Das Acevedo shows how the debate over who is an essential worker at the height of the COVID crisis revealed the failure of US labor law to protect the interests of low wage workers. Government measures to protect against COVID made it necessary to determine who is an “essential” worker. “Essential” workers such as medical workers, first responders, grocery store employees and food production workers were exempt from stay-at-home restrictions and could therefore keep their jobs even during the worst times of the COVID crisis. Continue reading "Securing Essential Work for Low Wage Workers"

Private State Actions to Disgorge the Wrongful Gains of Insider Trading

Jeanne L. Schroeder, Taking Misappropriation Seriously: State Common Law Disgorgement Actions for Insider Trading (Feb. 11, 2021) Cardozo Legal Stud. Rsch. Paper No. 625, available at SSRN.

The disgorgement remedy strips a defendant of unjust profits. Disgorgement is gaining prominence as a civil remedy across a varied body of substantive laws, including intellectual property, contracts, fiduciary duties, as well as in government enforcement litigation to battle fraud and corruption. Disgorgement’s provenance ties to restitution and the equitable accounting for profits remedy. Even as memory of its equitable history fades, modern and novel applications of disgorgement flourish. Disgorgement relies on restitutionary principles because its primary goal is to undo unjust gain. It also deters opportunism and disincentivizes misconduct.

But if not applied properly, the danger is that disgorgement may punish, which is explicitly not a goal of the law of unjust enrichment and restitution. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has faced, and continues to face, an array of criticisms for aggressive uses of its disgorgement remedy pursuant to statutory authorization. Such concerns led to several Supreme Court rulings requiring adjustments to the SEC’s approach to disgorgement—most recently in Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017) and Liu v. SEC, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020). Congress subsequently amended the remedy to solidify the SEC’s authority to seek disgorgement, though the clarification oddly appears to classify the statutory disgorgement remedy as legal rather than equitable. This congressional revision is housed in a massive piece of unrelated legislation, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), which Congress passed over a presidential veto. A parallel expansion of disgorgement remedies by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) faced increased judicial scrutiny and ultimately a rebuff by the Supreme Court in AMG v. FTC, No. 19-508 (April 22, 2021) (narrowly interpreting the statute’s injunction power as not encompassing FTC authority to seek equitable disgorgement), with congressional restoration of full disgorgement power anticipated.

Much is changing rapidly, and it is unclear how successful the SEC will be at navigating new strictures while advancing enforcement goals. To be clear, the landscape is complex. In a forthcoming article, Taking Misappropriation Seriously: State Common Law Disgorgement Actions for Insider Trading, Professor Jeanne Schroeder seeks a solution to the complexities. She advances private state common law actions for disgorgement as a cleaner way to remedy insider trading violations. The potential advantages of private state-based litigation with application of the disgorgement remedy are worth serious consideration. And the notion of parallel pursuit of state common law remedies may well be a wise approach for other governmental enforcement regimes. Continue reading "Private State Actions to Disgorge the Wrongful Gains of Insider Trading"

Rights, Facts, and Roe

Mary Ziegler, Abortion and the Law in America (2020).

For almost half a century, Roe v. Wade has been a dominant presence in debates about the Constitution and the Supreme Court in the United States. Other contentious rulings come and go. (In 1973, the year in which the Supreme Court decided Roe, commentators typically identified obscenity regulation as the most explosive issue the justices faced. No one mentioned Miller v. California at the most recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings.) But Roe remains, year after year, a uniquely urgent and divisive focal point in the nation’s constitutional discourse. In her important and insightful new book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present, Mary Ziegler explains how the debate over Roe has evolved and why it endures.

This is Ziegler’s third book on Roe’s impact on American society and law. In her first, After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate, published in 2015, she explored struggles over abortion in the immediate aftermath of Roe. The debate she found in this period was more fluid and multivalent than the pro-choice/pro-life, liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican dualism that solidified in the 1980s and remains today. In 2018, Ziegler published Beyond Abortion: Roe v. Wade and the Battle for Privacy, an examination of how Roe reshaped legal debates in contexts outside abortion. Continue reading "Rights, Facts, and Roe"

Societies of Angels and Non-Coercive Legal Systems

A number of prominent contemporary legal philosophers have invoked thought experiments about societies of angels in support of an argument that a non-coercive legal system is possible. The basic scenario is this: morally perfect angels would need law to coordinate their actions and resolve disputes, but since they voluntarily comply with the dictates of law (given their moral perfection), the legal system can operate without coercion.1

An obvious objection to these types of arguments is that talk of societies of angels (SoAs) has no bearing on human legal systems (never mind that it is a fantasy). Undeterred by such skepticism, legal philosophers continue to construct arguments on this imagined scenario without explaining why it merits being taken seriously. From Angels to Humans: Law, Coercion, and the Society of Angels Thought Experiment, by Lucas Miotto, robustly defends these arguments as sound. This superb essay is clear, astute, and balanced. Indeed, it is so balanced that, though setting out to defend SoA arguments, in closing Miotto moves “the discussion away from angelic scenarios.” Continue reading "Societies of Angels and Non-Coercive Legal Systems"

How Do Innovation Races Affect Research Quality?

Ryan Hill & Carolyn Stein, Race to the Bottom: Competition and Quality in Science (Jan. 5, 2021).

Significant new technologies have often been invented nearly simultaneously, and some scholars have worried that patent law’s rewards for the first to file create incentives to race to the patent office and do less to refine the invention. Similar concerns have been voiced about competition for academic priority leading to rushed, low-quality publications. But measuring whether competition for IP or academic credit actually decreases quality has proven difficult, and this difficulty limits the usefulness of models of innovation races.

In a creative and important new working paper, Race to the Bottom: Competition and Quality in Science, economists Ryan Hill and Carolyn Stein tackle this empirical challenge. They focus on structural biologists, whose research deciphering protein structures has advanced drug and vaccine development (including for COVID-19) and led to over a dozen Nobel Prizes. Journals and funding agencies generally require structural biologists to deposit their structures for proteins and other biological macromolecules in a worldwide repository, the Protein Data Bank (PDB). Using this rich dataset, Hill and Stein have documented that structures with higher expected reputational rewards induce more competition and are completed faster—but at lower scientific quality. Recognizing and navigating this tradeoff is important for scholars and policymakers concerned with allocating awards among competing innovators through a range of policy instruments, ranging from academic credit to intellectual property. Continue reading "How Do Innovation Races Affect Research Quality?"

Legal Human Humility: Contending with the Representation of Trees and Other “Nature” Beings

Alyse Bertenthal, Standing Up for Trees: Rethinking Representation in a Multispecies Context, 32 L. & Literature 355 (2020).

Despite the dominance of COVID-19 in our media feeds this past year, we still do not hear much about the anthropogenic origins of zoonotic diseases or the anthropocentrism that frames anthropogenic activity. We hear even less about the corresponding need to combat anthropocentrism, the monumental roadblocks legal systems erect in this regard, and how legal systems can and should adopt anti-anthropocentric perspectives in order to make inroads against an array of inequality-producing social phenomena. Going against this grain, and exacting much-needed pressure against Western legal orders’ exclusionary anthropocentric worldview of “nature” as property, is Alyse Bertenthal’s Standing Up for Trees: Rethinking Representation in a Multispecies Context.

In this elegantly-written article—that reads more like a cogent literary meditation than standard law review writing itself—Bertenthal casts a critical lens on the anthropocentrism of Western legal cultures and, in particular, the legal devaluation of trees in the American landscape (figuratively and literally). But she also challenges us further by asking us to interrogate the human-made legal constructs that are meant to rectify the subordinate position of “nonhuman nature” (P. 356)—such as the extension of legal personhood—for their residual anthropocentric exclusions. Continue reading "Legal Human Humility: Contending with the Representation of Trees and Other “Nature” Beings"

Clarifying the Legal Consequences of “Terrorism”

Pooja R. Dadhania, Paper Terrorists: Independence Movements and the Terrorism Bar, 108 Cal. L. R. 1733 (2020).

Conceptually, “terrorism” is complicated. Although a definition is simply stated – terrorism is the unlawful use of violence for political ends, usually against civilians – the “unlawful” component of the definition and the “civilian” component blur quickly. An attack by a non-uniformed independence fighter on a police station closely aligned with military operations treads the line. So does the civilian who is willing to give coded warnings to fighters when regime forces enter a neighborhood. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, or so they say.

Notwithstanding the legal gray zones, there are national and international legal regimes dedicated to stamping out the practice. Enter Pooja R. Dadhania’s Paper Terrorists: Independence Movements and the Terrorism Bar, which tackles a discrete, specific ambiguity in the law of terrorism and proposes a practical, reasonable, and immediate measure that can be taken to bring clarity to at least a thread of the far more intricate tapestry. Her article is one I like a lot, and it is one with which I encourage scholars of this difficult area of the law to engage. Continue reading "Clarifying the Legal Consequences of “Terrorism”"

Restating the Law of Nonmarital Contracts

Albertina Antognini, Nonmarital Contracts, 73 Stan. L. Rev. 67 (2021).

Millions of Americans are in cohabiting relationships marked by varying degrees of intimacy and dependency. Although at least some of these relationships are functionally similar to marriage, the law has had a limited role in regulating them. Nonmarital partners are ineligible for benefits like family leave, Social Security, favorable tax treatment, and more. Moreover, marital property rules do not apply to them, meaning that economically vulnerable partners may find themselves with nothing at the relationship’s end. In most states, one legal tool available to nonmarital partners is contract. Since the California Supreme Court’s Marvin v. Marvin decision over forty years ago, the vast majority of jurisdictions have allowed partners in intimate relationships to enter into contracts governing property, as long as sex is not consideration for the contract. The problem, most scholars observe, is that the vast majority of couples either do not bother to make agreements in the first place or do not express them in the form of a concrete exchange. Taking courts at their word, scholars assume that courts will enforce nonmarital contracts when they find them.

Albertina Antognini’s latest article, Nonmarital Contracts, disrupts this account. Through a painstakingly detailed examination of the entire universe of cases involving express contracts between nonmarital partners, Antognini shows that courts very rarely enforce agreements between opposite-sex partners exchanging domestic labor for money or other property, the very type of exchange that Marvin theoretically greenlighted. Thus, contract fails to make much of an impact, but for a different reason than is commonly assumed: the very courts that proclaim a right to contract in theory decline to enforce them in reality. Continue reading "Restating the Law of Nonmarital Contracts"

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