I am honored to have been asked to give the closing remarks to what has been an inspiring and insightful conference, and humbled to do so before so many respected friends and colleagues.
I think my most important duty before doing so is to thank the truly amazing students who conceived of and executed this conference from start to finish: Brian Highsmith, Lina Khan, Urja Mittal, and Jake Struebing, and also all of the student moderators too.
I also want to thank all the marvelous panelists who traveled from far and near to be here with us. It has meant so much for us to have you share your thinking and research on these urgent questions. And a particular thank you to those who gave the keynote and lunchtime addresses—Vanita Gupta, Zephyr Teachout, Justice Goodwin Liu, and Daniel Markovits.
It has been a fantastic conference—and for that reason, I will not prevail upon your alertness too much at the end of a long day, but will simply offer a few remarks about what I have heard and learned, and will try to connect that with some of the things I have been thinking about recently.
It might be easiest to begin with how we got to this point: to a large, well-attended conference on law and inequality at Yale Law School, in which my fellow panelists have called for experimenting with new forms of democracy, transformative socioeconomic changes, and a renewed and deepened commitment to the rule of law. I must say, if you would have told me ten years ago that we would be having this conversation in this hallowed room, I would have doubted it. Of course, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were having a rather similar conversation on national television just a few days ago, so the first lesson is that we should always be ready for surprises.
For me, and I suspect for many in this room, the immediate prompt to thinking about law and inequality was the vigorous conversation about economic inequality that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century kicked off last year. For all that remains contentious in the book, its extraordinary reception seemed to lift a stigma from discussions of inequality in mainstream and even elite settings. Like many folks here—Jedediah Purdy, Amy Kapczynski, Daniel Markovits, Jacob Hacker, and others—I have drawn on Piketty’s scholarship in my own written work. I believe that my broadly sympathetic review of Capital in the Twenty-First Century was probably behind the student organizers’ decision to privilege me with these closing remarks. So I will use Piketty’s work as a frame for them.