Yearly Archives: 2019

Fucking With the Magic

Kristen E. Eichensehr, Digital Switzerlands, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

Battles over the public policy obligations and implications of late 20th-century and early 21st-century technologies have long been fought via metaphor as well as via megabyte and microeconomics. Today, modern information technology platforms are characterized brightly as “generative” and darkly as “information feudalism.” Public policy might be informed by treating some network providers as “information fiduciaries.” Or, borrowing the phrase that prompts Kristen Eichensehr’s thought-provoking paper, tech companies might be characterized as metaphorical “digital Switzerlands.” They might be neutral institutions in their dealings with national governments.

In Professor Eichenbehr’s telling, the idea of a corporate digital Switzerland resisting government aggression—refusing to cooperate with government requests for private user information, for example—comes from a recent suggestion to that effect by Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. As she notes briefly, it’s an old idea, not a new one, even if it has migrated from corporation-vs-corporation conflict to state-vs-corporation power dynamics. Ken Auletta’s history of Google reported that back in 2005, Google CEO Eric Schmidt characterized Google’s search engine and advertising platform as a neutral “digital Switzerland” in its treatment of content companies and advertisers. Schmidt was defending the idea that Google had no agenda vis-à-vis incumbent entertainment industry players. Google’s technology produced accurate data about consumer viewing practices. If that data led advertisers to pay less for their ad buys, that wasn’t Google’s intent—or its responsibility. Schmidt’s listener, the then-president of Viacom, erupted in protest: “You’re fucking with the magic!”

Indeed. The reader should take many lessons from Eichensehr’s article. Foremost among them is this: Wandering into the digital Switzerlands of contemporary technology, whether because Microsoft (in its obvious self-interest) says that’s how we should do things or because that’s an objectively useful place to begin, is fucking with the magic—that is, the mythos that guides how scholars and policymakers think about technology purveyors and their civic roles and responsibilities. Continue reading "Fucking With the Magic"

Sharing and the City: Re-imagining Regeneration for America’s Urban Core

As debates about “exclusion” and “sharing” continue to animate property and political discourses, scholarship tackling questions about how and for whom property and property law works is timely.

Scholarship examining the power of property law to promote inclusion1 through informal, contractual and proprietary forms (e.g., easements, leases, trusts, concurrent estates, and co-ownership arrangements), or property law’s “sharing” impulse,2 have typically focused on the social and economic benefits of hanging a different sign: that says not “keep out” but “come on in.” The legal power to include has also been lauded as a powerful enabler of innovation for the “sharing economy”—from for-profit platforms like Airbnb and Uber to not-for-profit initiatives like foodbanks and makerspaces.

Scholarship exploring the potential of the sharing economy as a vehicle for economic growth, innovation and micro-entrepreneurialism has examined how facilitating access to property, resources, time and skills can enable those who are excluded from these opportunities under conventional ownership models.

While the emergence of the ‘sharing economy’ has prompted intense interest amongst property scholars, it has also provoked a raft of public and policy concerns linked to precarity and exploitation of labor in the “gig economy.” Professor Rashmi Dyal-Chand’s new book, Collaborative Capitalism in American Cities: Reforming Urban Market Regulations, casts new light on practices of sharing. Continue reading "Sharing and the City: Re-imagining Regeneration for America’s Urban Core"

Lunney’s Paradox: More Copyright May Lead to Less Creativity

The title of Glynn Lunney’s new book, Copyright’s Excess, presents a puzzle for those of us who have reflected on the nature and function of copyright law. Copyright is typically justified as a system of incentives. By giving authors (and by contract, publishers) exclusive control over commercially significant reproductions and distributions of their artistic and literary works, copyright helps to ensure that the copyright owner, and not copyists, will capture any profits made from exploiting the work. Copyright, in short, is supposed to help authors make more money. And in a world that works as economists expect, more money for authors should lead to more creative output. The equation seems simple: more copyright = more art and culture. But is this true? Is it possible that copyright protections might backfire, and result in less creative output rather than more?

Lunney’s book offers considerable evidence that, at least in the music industry, it is at least an uncomfortably plausible possibility that more copyright has led to less creativity. Lunney, a lawyer-economist, takes a painstaking look at music sales data dating back to the early 1960s, including data tracking the rise of recording music revenues up to Napster’s debut in 1999, followed by their precipitous decline. The shock to music industry revenues caused by Napster (and what followed) provided the makings for a terrific natural experiment: did increased revenue from the early 1960s to 1999 lead to more new music? And did plummeting revenues after 1999 lead to a dearth of new music? Continue reading "Lunney’s Paradox: More Copyright May Lead to Less Creativity"

Translating Economics for Immigration Policy

Howard F. Chang, The Economics of Immigration Reform, 52 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 111 (2018).

Scholarship that translates and connects one discipline to another is a special treasure. The need for this type of scholarship is especially great in immigration law. Immigration law is interwoven with many other disciplines, but immigration law scholars often are so occupied with the extreme complexity and immediacy of the legal discipline that it can be difficult to branch out. I’m selfishly fond of The Economics of Immigration Reform by Howard Chang because it does a great service to those of us who needed a lucid and approachable explanation of the economics behind immigration law reform. Professor Chang explains in detail why immigration restrictionists are wrong when they argue that less immigration makes economic sense. If less immigration is desirable, it is not for economic reasons.

Professor Chang uses economic theory to evaluate recent legislation proposed to restrict legal immigration. Along the way, Professor Chang examines two major economic studies that both concluded that immigration produces a positive fiscal impact, one from 1997 and one from 2017. In the process of using the studies to evaluate proposed limits on immigration, Professor Chang teaches us that the assumptions underlying any economic study affect outcomes. Continue reading "Translating Economics for Immigration Policy"

Procedural Innovations to Address the Secrecy Problem in National Security Litigation

Shirin Sinnar, Procedural Experimentation and National Security in the Courts, 106 Cal. L. Rev. 991 (2018).

Public litigation implicating national security issues faces a particularly thorny problem: the need for secrecy. On one hand, this kind of litigation—whether challenging the military’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, or the practice of putting individuals’ names on a No Fly list, or the Trump Administration’s “Muslim Ban”—raises important public issues and represents a paradigm case for judicial transparency. On the other hand, government defenses rely on state secrets with potentially vast consequences for national security, a situation where transparency can be dangerous.

Traditionally, courts have confronted the secrecy problem in national security litigation in one of two ways. Courts may abstain from hearing national security cases “because adjudication will lead to the dangerous exposure of sensitive national security information or to intractable challenges in reviewing and managing such information.” Alternatively, courts may defer to the executive branch’s judgment on a particular factual or judgment question. Both solutions often stop litigation in its tracks, preventing the court from evaluating cases on their merits. Continue reading "Procedural Innovations to Address the Secrecy Problem in National Security Litigation"

Taking Away Citizenship: Lessons from the British Advisory Committee

Since 2006, the United Kingdom has denaturalized more than 350 of its citizens. This represents an increase of almost four-hundred percent from the prior five decades. The United Kingdom is an outlier in this respect. Other countries have instituted denaturalization proceedings in recent years, but no western nation has done so at the rate of the British Home Office.1 How do we explain this precipitous increase in revocations of citizenship in the past decade? In their remarkable recent article, Patrick Weil and Nicholas Handler argue that a pivotal–and much overlooked–change was Parliament’s passage of a law in 2002 that abolished an advisory committee, established in 1918, that had effectively curtailed abuses of power by the government. The advisory committee was composed of persons with judicial experience, including members of the House of Lords, but it was not empowered as a court. Because of this committee, Britain saw a decrease in citizenship revocations between World Wars I and II, unlike in other countries in the west where they increased precipitously in this period. After World War II, the committee was an effective bulwark against Cold War-era attacks on the foreign-born.

What is most remarkable is that this highly influential committee was never formally empowered with the final say. The Home Secretary, who oversees the Home Office, could always overrule the committee’s decisions. How could an advisory committee with little formal legal power nevertheless have such a dramatic impact? The answer, according to the authors, lies in the way that the committee used a combination of rule of law norms, public shaming, and courageous speech to push back against politically-motivated attacks on the foreign-born. Weil and Handler use close and thorough readings of a trove of archival material to explain how the committee “effectively leveraged its ‘advisory’ role into one of de facto appellate review” (P. 354). Once the committee was disbanded in 2002, this important review power more or less disappeared.2 Like many things in life, we may only be aware of how important this kind of review is now that it is gone. Continue reading "Taking Away Citizenship: Lessons from the British Advisory Committee"

Layers of Intentions

Martin Matczak, Three Kinds of Intention in Lawmaking, 36 Law and Philosophy 651 (2017).

“Legislative intention” is one of those concepts that many people use without recognizing the complexity of the underlying idea. The issue of statutory interpretation is frequently characterized as being a disagreement between “intentionalists” and “textualists,” an argument regarding what role, if any, lawmakers’ intentions should be given in determining the meaning and application of statutes. However, even if one starts from the position that legislative intentions are important, there is a further question regarding which intentions we are talking about.

This is where Marcin Matczak’s article, Three Kinds of Intention in Lawmaking, comes in. Matczak analyzes legislative intentions using the analytical structure J. L. Austin offered for talking about the intentions of everyday speech: locutionary intentions, illocutionary intentions, and perlocutionary intentions. The first, locutionary intentions, refers to (“semantic”) meaning—what the speaker was trying to say. The second, illocutionary intentions, refers to the type of speech act intended. Austin was well known for pointing out that utterances sometimes change things in the world—e.g., “I now pronounce you man and wife” can change the legal status of the individuals involved (he called such utterances “performative”). More generally, a set of words can be intended to be a special kind of utterance: e.g., a promise, request, order, etc. Austin’s third category, perlocutionary intentions, regard how the person making the utterance hopes to change the world through the words chosen (e.g., getting other people to do things because the speaker has made certain promises, requests, or orders). Continue reading "Layers of Intentions"

A Two-Way Lens on Agency Independence

Miriam Seifter, Understanding State Agency Independence, 117 Mich. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN.

In recent decades, our field of administrative law has taken an empirical turn, at least in part. We now know more about on-the-ground practices of federal agencies and their treatment in the federal courts, for example. Our focus, however, has been relentlessly on the federal level. To the extent that scholars look outside the federal government, to states or to private entities, for instance, they almost always examine the interaction with federal entities. Miriam Seifter’s work should divert your attention to the states—both to learn about state practices and to consider what those practices might tell us about federal institutions.

In her latest piece, Understanding State Agency Independence, Seifter examines agency independence at the state level and uses that examination to contribute a new perspective on agency independence at the federal level. Continue reading "A Two-Way Lens on Agency Independence"

Labor Power and Industrial and Political Democracy

Ewan McGaughey, Democracy in America at Work: The History of Labor’s Vote in Corporate Governance, 42 Seattle U. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

Like everybody else, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about democracy. How can we nurture faith in democracy when significant segments of the working class feel so disempowered that they either don’t vote at all or turn to nihilist, xenophobic, racist, or hateful visions of American life offered by speakers who seem to have less interest in governance than in nurturing grievances? Although turn-out in the mid-terms was high,1 as mid-term elections go anyway, still many people who could have voted did not vote. This invites the question about what law can do to build institutional structures and a culture that convinces the disaffected that they can join together to build a better world. One of the very few things on which one can find agreement between the right and the left today is that a lot of poor people and working people have been left behind by the elites that seem increasingly to control their work lives, their economy, and politics. But the agreement stops there, and the sense of polarized stalemate only breeds cynicism and despair.

I found an antidote to despair in reading Ewan McGaughey’s forthcoming paper, Democracy in America at Work: The History of Labor’s Vote in Corporate Governance. It is a perceptive, broadly synthetic, and snappily-written account of the past and possible future of labor’s role in corporate democracy. The paper enriched my thinking about re-linking democracy in political life with democracy in work life. It bubbles over with ideas about how law could create a more accountable form of capitalism. Based on an admirably succinct survey of the history of labor involvement in corporate governance, McGaughey articulates a bold, provocative, and exciting thesis: “Democratic voice in the economy is embedded in American tradition, efficient, legitimate, and (even without federal law reform) could be written into state laws today.” (P. 3.) Continue reading "Labor Power and Industrial and Political Democracy"

In Support of Arbitration

Pamela Bookman, The Arbitration-Litigation Paradox, __ Vand. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming), available at SRRN.

Arbitration and litigation are often treated as opposites. Arbitration in its idealized version is sleek, fast, and endlessly adaptable. Litigation is its foil: clunky, inexpert, and sometimes captured. As a consequence, being pro-arbitration and anti-litigation are assumed to go hand-in-hand.

In The Arbitration-Litigation Paradox, Pamela Bookman challenges this account. With a focus on international commercial arbitration, Bookman suggests that hostility to litigation undermines the key role of courts in supporting arbitration. In other words, to be pro-arbitration, sometimes courts need to be pro-litigation as well. Continue reading "In Support of Arbitration"

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