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Law and Political Economy - Spring 2023

Law and political economy is the study of how law shapes power in market societies.  The course will begin by looking at various approaches to thinking about law and market society and at the changes in property law that drove the emergence of capitalism in England, the development of racialized enslavement in the American colonies, and the fundamental legal choice points that shaped the trajectory of American capitalism. It then follows with a study of changes in labor law, corporations, and torts as Big Business emerged in the Northeast and Midwest in the late 19th century, shaping of the uniquely weak status of American labor during the “Second Industrial Divide,” and the network of legal elements governing property, contract, credit, trespass, game, and criminal labor law that laid the foundations for racialized class structure in the post-Reconstruction South. After learning about the rise of Legal Realism in reaction to the judicial imposition of laissez faire at the turn of the 20th century, the heart of the course revolves around the role of law in supporting the emergence of a broad, primarily white middle class from the 1930s to the 1960s, the structuring of racialized class in response to the Great Migration outside of the South, and then since the 1970s, the dismantling of the welfare state, its displacement by mass incarceration and a punitive welfare regime, and changes in the law governing labor, banking, financial regulation, antitrust, corporate governance, and trade that drove the dramatic increase in precarious employment, the stagnation of middle class wages, and the spectacular escape of the 1%, unique to the United States among advanced market society. The course concludes with examination of proposed reforms, and assessment of their likely effectiveness on the background of the experience of regimes within American capitalism covered in the first ten weeks of the course.

There is no exam. Students will submit an individual paper, no longer than 2500 words, as their end-of-semester project.

For more information visit the Harvard Law School Course Catalog.