What a difference a decade makes. In the early 1990s opposition to NAFTA was found largely in the United States and Canada. In Mexico the labor movement was largely silent thinking that the pact would result in job creation for Mexican workers. Only the left wing PRD was critical. Now, after a decade of experience with the Washington Consensus workers in the south realize that these trade pacts are a dead end. There have been large demonstrations in countries like Nicaragua against the proposed CAFTA. This is part of a general shift to the left in Latin America, even if some of that shift has been towards populist authoritarians like Chavez in Venezuela.
I recall the comment of a partner I once worked for who suggested that law school meant that I would always know how to read a Supreme Court opinion but now it was time to make some money. Well, I am glad that I actually do know how to read Supreme Court opinions, especially when they are about how we make money in this country. And yesterday’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London is well worth reading in this regard.
I post this comment and the link here because the case touches on some fundamental conflicts withing capitalism itself. But it also, interestingly, raises concerns about the proper relationship between corporations and the public interest. As one dissenter notes, corporations used to be above all else instruments of a public purpose, whereas in Kelo it is the private interest of Pfizer, the pharma giant, that is one of the issues on trial.
More generally, the split decision (5-4) reflects the basic antinomy in capitalism between a general interest in having a government serve the larger directions of capitalist development versus a strong bias towards individual rights and property ownership. This is not an easy divide to resolve.
The decision is also interesting, of course, because it is part of the larger debates about originalism, federalism and the proper role of the courts in deciding what law is. And if that were not enough motivation to read the entire opinion, along the way we are treated to the delightfully ironic spectacle of arch-conservative Justice Thomas quoting America’s leading marxist legal scholar, Morton Horwitz as well as Justice Holmes’ famous anti-free market dissent in Lochner!
The Financial Times’ regular columnist, Amity Shlaes, hopes the nomination of Rep. Christopher Cox to head up the SEC will take the teeth out of the corporate reform effort underway in the post-Enron environment. Here is my reply to her recent column which the FT ran along with a nice photo of Justice William O. Douglas.