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economic self-determination, international economic law, law and development, law and social change


Law and Economics | Law and Society


In this Essay, I argue that the contemporary world requires an explicitly plural and flexible conception of economic self-determination and especially a broader vision of the economic “self” at its center. I contend that older dyadic understandings of economic self-determination, formed largely in light of twentieth-century anticolonial struggles, are no longer sufficient. Individuals can be economically constrained across multiple vectors by newly powerful actors and innovative forms of control. They are thus potentially implicated in multiple political and economic selves—not just personal but also local, national, and transnational.

As such, those seeking to promote economic self-determination should more explicitly recognize and perhaps strategically enable and enhance this flexibility. At the same time, anyone working for change must remain aware of how each “self” can still be coopted and reshaped by those who would deliberately or inadvertently limit the economic potential of others in pursuit of their own benefit. We must avoid, for example, both an atomistic and counterproductive individualism and an uninterrogated support for elites shielded by the concept of the nation-state. At a deeper process level, we should also help build capacities and mechanisms that make the sources of economic unfreedom more visible and understandable and that enable the kinds of flexible economic self-definition and cross-cutting alliances that the contemporary moment requires.