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Publication Date

Fall 2017


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Toward that goal, this essay proposes a structural principle of collective economic power for “we the people.” This principle is both consistent with longstanding Constitutional ideals and tailored to the current challenges of neoliberal ideology and policy. It develops two premises: first, it rejects the neoliberal economic ideology that defines legitimate power and freedom as individualized “choice” constrained by an existing political economy. Instead, this proposed principle recognizes that meaningful political economic freedom and power fundamentally consist of access to collective organizations with potential to create a “more perfect union” with better and less constrained options. Second, the post-Lochner principle of judicial deference to legislative economic judgments is an insufficient guide to meaningful democratic access to collective economic power. Other structural issues, including the division of state versus federal power and the nature and role of judicial power, crucially determine meaningful access to economic power.

This essay shows how the principle of collective economic power guides economic justice in three doctrinal examples, addressing different structural issues. First, it provides a principled basis for applying the dormant commerce clause to limit the race to the bottom among state and local governments using tax and spending subsidies to attract private capital economic development, increasingly shifting public resources to nationally organized businesses at the expense of public support for education, health, and infrastructure. Second, the structural principle of access to collective economic power challenges the constitutionalization of cost-benefit analysis in the minimal rationality test for reviewing economic policy. Cost-benefit analysis rests on a stealth revival of Lochner’s naturalization of existing market constraints, creating a barrier to democratic power to change “market” prices to create better or different opportunities. Third, the principle of collective economic power refines due process rights to support judicial power to protect both the procedural and substantive economic rights of non-wealthy persons. Meaningful property and contract rights require access to the collective power of the courts and to class action litigation, not simply individualized private arbitration subject to unequal private collective economic power.

Publication Title

Yale Law & Policy Review

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