Vern Countryman and the Path of Progressive (and Populist) Bankruptcy Scholarship
Posted: 9 May 2000
Date Written: March 2000
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Vern Countryman was the leading progressive bankruptcy scholar - and in fact the leading bankruptcy scholar of any perspective. This article explores the links between Countryman's work and that of his New Deal predecessors, on the one hand, and his successors, on the other. In addition to Countryman himself, the article focuses on William Douglas, who was Countryman's predecessor and mentor, as well as being the leading bankruptcy scholar of the New Deal. Among Countryman's successors, the article focuses on the work of Elizabeth Warren, Countryman's successor at Harvard Law School and the nation's leading current progressive scholar. The article considers both the continuities and some surprising disjunctions in the evolution of progressive bankruptcy scholarship. Countryman differed from William Douglas, who as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission had spearheaded a dramatic overhaul of the nation's corporate reorganization laws, in three crucial respects. Whereas Douglas was best known for his contributions to corporate bankruptcy, Countryman focused much of his energy on the financial distress of individuals. Countryman also forged much closer ties to the bankruptcy bar, and he was much less sympathetic to instrumental perspectives, as evidenced by his hostility to the emerging law and economics movement. Each of these attributes plays a similarly prominent role in the work of Elizabeth Warren and other current progressives. The article shows that the shifts in progressive thinking can be traced in large part to economic forces such as changes in the credit markets. The analysis also suggests ways in which current progressives could revitalize the kinds of arguments made by their predecessors.
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