On December 11 and 12, Cornell Law School and Tel Aviv Law School held a conference on "Law, Economy, and Inequality" at the Cornell Club in New York City. The conference, organized by Robert Hockett, Edward Cornell Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, and Roy Kreitner, professor of law on the Buchman Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University, brought together distinguished law, government, and economics scholars from schools including Cornell, Duke, Tel Aviv, UCLA, William & Mary, and Yale.
The financial crisis of 2008 and its debt-deflationary aftermath, Hockett and Kreitner noted in organizing the conference, brought at least one critical benefit: what had been a steadily worsening yet curiously undiscussed development-widening wealth and income inequality in the advanced capitalist economies-finally became the hottest of "hot topics" in policy discussions worldwide. The runaway success of Tomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century was but one dramatic expression of renewed interest in foundational questions of polity and economy.
While it is good news that inequality is once again talked about, Hockett and Kreitner observed, public discussion of the subject has been largely unfocused and, partly in consequence, inconclusive. What inequalities matter, and why? What drives such inequalities, and how are they best addressed if indeed they should be addressed?
Moral and political philosophers, Hockett and Kreitner noted, have admirably tackled the "what inequalities matter" and "why" questions for decades now, while some social scientists have done helpful work on the questions of causation and cure. These camps have had few discussions among themselves, however-and, worse yet, lawyers have had next to nothing to say on these subjects. This is unfortunate, Hockett and Kreitner observed, because as laws critically constitute economies, and since lawyers in consequence typically are those through whom societies address collective challenges of the kind that inequalities pose when at last they legislate and then regulate.
The conference accordingly brought lawyers, philosophers, and social scientists into fruitful dialogue on the nature, significance, and best collective responses to worsening inequality in advanced capitalist societies. On the first day, panelists Tsilly Dagan of Tel Aviv's Law Faculty, David Grewal of Yale Law School, and Jedediah Purdy of Duke Law School, with Kreitner as commentator, discussed the role of neoliberalism in law and legal education in entrenching inequalities across spheres of economic activity. Anne Alstott of Yale Law School and Yoram Margalioth of Tel Aviv's Law Faculty, with Gregory Alexander of Cornell Law School as commentator, then discussed the role of tax codes in causing and perpetuating inequalities within and across generations. Robert Frank of Cornell's Johnson School of Management, and Tamar Kricheli-Katz of Tel Aviv's Law Faculty, with Aziz Rana of Cornell Law School as commentator, closed the day's sessions by discussing ways in which narrowing inequalities can actually benefit people on both sides of the divide.
John Roemer, Elizabeth S. and A. Varick Stout Professor of Political Science & Economics at Yale, and Jed Stiglitz of Cornell Law School, with Hockett as commentator, opened the second day's discussion with presentations on the economic, political, and legal mechanics of wealth concentration over time. There then followed discussions of book projects now being worked on by Matthew Drennan of UCLA's School of Urban Planning, Robert Hockett, Eric Kades of the William & Mary Marshall Wythe School of Law, and Daniel Markovits of Yale Law School. The projects all shared a concern with the legal, political, and economic causes and effects of income and wealth concentration, as well as with means of reversing the trend toward such concentrations.
Papers presented at the conference will be published in Theoretical Inquiries in Law, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Tel Aviv University Buchman Faculty of Law.