Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Can 'inclusive capitalism' pull us back from the brink?

1957 U.S. propaganda poster (NARA)
"Welcome to late-stage capitalism!," DeepKarma tweeted @me earlier this month.

The exclamation was a response to my tweeted complaint that Hertz rental car quoted me a higher price when logged in as a "Gold Plus Rewards Member" than when I compared rates in an anonymous browser.  Dynamic pricing is a known feature of online retailing that rubs people the wrong way yet pours through America's dysfunctional consumer protection sieve.  I did not expect it to be a feature of Hertz's so-called "loyalty program."

Pushing the button of my angst over corporatocracy, DeepKarma's term intrigued me. My subconscience might have remembered Annie Lowrey's "Why the Phrase 'Late Capitalism' Is Suddenly Everywhere" in The Atlantic in 2017, subtitle: "An investigation into a term that seems to perfectly capture the indignities and absurdities of the modern economy."

The term dates to early 20th-century German economist Werner Sombart. Twentieth-century socialists mispredicting the demise of capitalism were fond of the term, which in turn made it unwelcome in polite democratic company.  Now our feverish commitment to deregulation, dismantling of social safety net, and bottom-line-driven abuse of human capital, etc., resulting in, inter alia, an enormous wealth gap and aforementioned charade of consumer protection regulation, have brought the term back into fashion.  I'm an economic conservative, by the way, but there is no free market if people are not free to enter into it and make free choices once they're there.

Coincidentally, I recently mentioned the work (and kind support for my work) of Syracuse law professor Robert Ashford.  It happens that Ashford is a leader of a community of scholars who have for decades been advocating, often screaming into the wind, for economic policy solutions to come from economics itself.

More often than not, the field of economics posits only descriptive research or resorts to classical norms such as laissez-faire regulatory policy without critical introspection.  Ashford is the founder of interdisciplinary "socio-economics," which strives for "inclusive capitalism": in my words, to use economic science to actually make life better for everyone, rather than for some at the expense of others.

A short but steep learning curve is required before one digs into the potential of socio-economics, in the vision of Ashford and colleagues.  Here is an introductory kit:

As these titles indicate, the interdisciplinary nature of socio-economics and inclusive capitalism make the sub-field accessible to scholars, for both understanding and participation, in a range of disciplines, both soft and hard sciences, besides law and economics, and also understandable to anyone.  Professor Ashford is always willing to invest time and energy to help potential believers come up to speed, and he is a captivating speaker for conferences and classes.

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