Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


Modern Money Theory and International Law

This essay examines an emerging epistemological conjuncture between what might loosely be identified as two (primarily) academic camps: economists subscribing to “modern money theory” (MMT) and international lawyers associated with “critical” traditions within the discipline. For many legal scholars, my sense is that their current experience with MMT varies from “I think I have heard of that before” to “that state theory to money that pushes for a universal job guarantee.” And many progressive economists familiar with MMT have not spent a significant time with the insights and sensibility of critical international law scholarship. My aim here is to explore where there might be fruitful collaboration between these communities.

Stripping the Gears of White Supremacy: A Call to Abate Reliance on Court Fines and Fees and Revitalize Local Taxation

In recent decades, states and municipalities have increasingly relied on court fines and fees to overcome budget shortfalls. Existing literature underscores the varied and adverse impacts of court debt, as well as the disproportionate incidence of such debt on people of color and poor people of all races. Yet, few pieces of scholarship directly link increased imposition of court fines and fees to decreased dependence on traditional progressive taxes. This article aims to fill the gap. Using the Law and Political Economy (LPE) framework, I argue that increased imposition of court debt derives from heightened antitax sentiment and the erosion of the state and local tax bases. In the process, I contend, the tax and court debt systems reflect and exacerbate racial inequality. I conclude by proposing a conceptual framework to abate reliance on court debt, advancing the LPE mission.

Roma Workers under Czech Racial Capitalism: A Post-Socialist Case Study

This article contributes to the theory of racial capitalism by focusing on racialization of labor in the post-socialist context. Drawing on fieldwork conducted with Roma workers in the city of Ostrava, the Czech Republic, the paper investigates the role of the Czech state in confining Roma to low-paid, precarious and informal work—and how dynamics of racialization figure in this relationship. State policies like job placement programs, I claim, explicitly target Roma workers, channelling them into stigmatized and low paying positions, reproducing racial prejudices and confining them to precarious and often dangerous work. Using the category of “racialized surplus population,” I examine the functionalist relationship between racialization and capitalism in the Czech Republic, which I argue is manifest both economically—enabling capital to rely on racialized workers as a reserve army of labor—and politically, as the exclusion of Roma from the white proletariat mediates class conflict.

Commodified Justice and American Penal Form

This article seeks to analyze American penal law, ideology, and culture through the lens of Marxist theories of commodification and commodity fetishism. It first introduces the “first-order commodification of justice,” that is, the positing of a quantitative equivalence between offense and punishment. Next, it introduces the “second-order commodification of justice,” that is, the notion that the benefits of a particular penal regime can be reckoned alongside other social goods, mediated by the general currency of “utility.” It then considers some of the consequences of this commodification for the cultural meanings of justice and punishment in American culture. It pays particular attention to how the commodification of justice interacts in a mutually reinforcing way with racism. It concludes by arguing that commodified justice can perhaps be overcome through a transition to restorative/transformative justice paradigms, effectuated by an anti-capitalist, prison-industrial-complex abolitionist political praxis.

Situating the Inter-American Human Rights System in the Oscillation of International Law

This article considers the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) as a response to the general assessments of some critical scholarship on international law. It employs the concept of “oscillation of international law” to organize different views of the international human rights and environmental law (IHREL) scholarship, two legal regimes that speak loudest to the IAHRS’ interests. These views are distributed within a spectrum that goes from utopian demands placed on IHREL, to apologist defenses of these legal regimes. I put forward a third strand of critical intervention by framing the IAHRS as a space of political and legal contention that promises to address some of the IHREL’s shortcomings. I caution, however, that, although the IAHRS functions as an enabling platform for subaltern polities that redraw the boundaries of legal meanings, the system may fall short in tackling challenges that are contingent on global capitalist logics.