Inaugural social science and law interdisciplinary conference: inequality and the rule of law

The recent Inaugural Social Science and Law Interdisciplinary Conference, held at Jesus College in Cambridge, brought together leading academics from law and the social sciences, including economics, to discuss inequality and the rule of law in the global north and the rising powers, particularly China.

Their purpose was to explore how law can be used as a tool for greater equality in society, and how it can help determine a fairer distribution of wealth.

In this series of podcasts CBR policy associate Boni Sones spoke to the session panellists and the Key Note speakers about their research and findings.

The SSLIC aims to advance practical understanding of the possibilities of democratic politics; suggest future avenues for legal research that draw on a diverse array of disciplines; create opportunities for interdepartmental cross-pollination at and beyond Cambridge; and offer a context for developing new methodologies.

The Conference was supported by the University of Cambridge’s ESRC Doctoral Training Programme and by the Cambridge Public Policy Strategic Research Initiative. It also received support and funding from the Intellectual Forum and Cambridge University China Centre at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Key quotes from the CBR podcasts:

Thinking like a Lawyer in the Midst of Creative Disruption

Jacob Eisler

Jacob: “We need potentially a new conception of law that serves justice in a methodologically novel way. I think that is why an interdisciplinary approach is so critical. I do think it is helpful to look to the unique virtues of law and try and enhance and refine them and I think in well-functioning democracies law has the benefit of reflecting the will of the entire polity. I think it is important that economics does not come to dominate in the field of ‘law and economics’ and that we recognise but also adapt law’s ability to serve as a public force. It is not just that economics can inform law, this is the driving ethos of law and economics, but that law can baseline and determine the conditions of economics.”

Inequality and the Economic Development in China

Ding Chen, Fintech in China: evolution, regulation and sustainability

Chen: “We need to know how much Fintech contributes to the real economy. The Fintech sector as a whole is still relatively small and not really significant compared to the formal banking sector. We do see the potential of what Fintech can achieve. My view is that it has grown too fast and in too short a term. It remains to be seen if it is a bubble, time will tell us.”

Boya Wang, Employment protection and total factor productivity: the impact of the Chinese Labour Contracts Act

Wang: “As the country [China] is being marketised and as the marketising reforms progress to reduce the risks and uncertainties in the business sector the rule of law is clearly playing an increasingly important role but at the same time, we see the laws are being implemented in parallel to other informal institutions that means the actual effect of the laws will be dependent on the local social economic context. Over the past decades China has been following a gradual incrementalism reform strategy leaving a huge degree of autonomy to the local authorities for the policy implementation and enforcement. That is why we see a striking cross regional variation in terms of the effects of policies and laws. In 2007 the Labour Law received a major revision which caused a huge debate in the public regarding the impact on the economy, and it was also when the negative impact of the financial crisis spread into the mainland business sector. The effectiveness and efficiency of the law really varies across regions.”

Fairness in Law and Economics

Zoe Adams, A ‘realistic’ law and economics

Adams: “It is a call to realism to say that if the field of ‘law and economics’ is going to have a future, if it is going to be able to tell us anything meaningful, it has to take the critical realism approach seriously. I am not saying that the economic approach to law is inherently wrong, I am saying that the field of law and economics needs to reform by drawing on insights from critical realism.”

Ann Sofie Cloots, Fairness and efficiency in the legal theory of the company: a data-driven co-evolutionary and multiple-equilibria model

Cloots: “I think many scholars have looked at how efficiency and how fairness norms should matter and how to balance these against each other. What is novel and little featured in corporate law debates is to what extent is fairness a condition for corporate efficiency. It is under-represented in the literature which I tried to address.”  

Redefining Equality in the Era of Big Data and Automation

Ewan McGaughey: Will robots automate your job away? Full employment, basic income and economic democracy

McGaughey: “I would predict that if we have good ideas in social policy, if we have a social consensus that full employment and fair incomes is possible then society can achieve whatever it wants, there are no limits. It is entirely possible with the technology that we have today to have a zero carbon and zero poverty society with full employment and fair incomes.”

Christopher Markou, Smart cities and ubiquitous AI

Markou: “It is about understanding and making sense of what is coming. I think the deficit that we are operating with is that when we talk about automation and when we talk about robots this only tells part of the story and that the kind of ways that technology will replace labour isn’t just about the physical aspects of Labour it is also about the cognitive aspects of  Labour. That is not a function of robotics that is a function of machine learning and that is what we cannot predict. We cannot predict the advances of the application of the cognitive aspects of technology and how this translates into jobs and how this translates into education and into skills outcomes. How will it all eventually shape up?”

Keynote: Inequality and Public Policy

Sue Konzelmann, Simon Deakin and Marc Fovargue Davies: Labour, finance and inequality: the insecurity cycle in British public policy

Konzelmann: “The working together of the Momentum organisation which supports the vision of politics and economics that Jeremy Corbyn has articulated, working with the organisation in America called Our Revolution, which supports the kind of revolution that Bernie Sanders has been articulating, those things coming together form an international alliance that is similar to what we saw in terms of the alliance between Reagan and Thatcher. It is a nascent one at the moment but it could develop into something that would cause a potential for a similar sort of shift but in the opposite direction.”

Deakin: “This type of period when there is a fundamental economic and political crisis is resolved one way or the other with a policy shift. I don’t think we can go back to neo-liberalism. We must hope that the alternative, is not authoritarian politics, but a renewal of democratic politics in some form.”

Fovargue Davies: “All we can say is that the pre-conditions for a major change are there, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will get that change, when we get a change, or what sort of change that will be but I think we have to be optimistic.”

Electoral Design: Between Personal Freedom and Political Equality

Richard Briffault, Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School

Briffault: “It is hard to separate the political process from the surrounding society. They interpenetrate each other. The surrounding society is one that is based on capitalism and unequal wealth. It is hard to put a real wall between the electoral process and that. Wealth is not a criteria for voting and the internet has created a low cost way of getting people to participate in politics but wealth is still clearly a factor.”

Michael Kang, the Thomas Simmons Professor at Emory University School of Law

Kang: “Ultimately you have to get people to vote for you and money doesn’t always win. That is certainly true. Money isn’t always determinative but it is pretty important. There is this idea that the most important thing in politics is money, money, money. There is a reason why candidates focus so much on their fund raising capacity and how much money they have in the bank before they enter the race, or think about how seriously they can contend for office. And it does make a difference in a lot of cases even if it doesn’t decide every race it is enormously important. The changes in campaign finance law have enabled one or a handful of donors to provide enough financing to vault into contention and sometimes also to victory candidates that might not otherwise have a chance, so in that sense it is really distorting.”

Listen to the podcasts

In this series of podcasts CBR policy associate Boni Sones spoke to the session panellists and the Key Note speakers about their research and findings

Jacob Eisler, Ding Chen & Boya Wang:

Zoe Adams & Ann Sofie Cloots:

Ewan McGaughey & Christopher Markou:

Sue Konzelmann, Simon Deakin & Marc Fovargue-Davis:

Richard Briffault & Michael Kang:

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