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Since the end of the American Civil War, scholars have debated the efficacy of various models of community economic development, or CED. Historically, this debate has tracked one of two approaches: place-based models of CED, seeking to stimulate community development through market-driven economic growth programs, and people-based models of CED, focused on the removal of structural barriers to social and economic mobility that prevent human flourishing. More recently, scholars and policymakers have turned to a third model from the impact investing community — the social impact bond, or SIB. The SIB model of CED ostensibly finds a middle ground by leveraging funding from private impact investors to finance social welfare programs within marginalized communities. SIBs seemingly answer the call of local government law scholars of the New Regionalists movement who advocate for governmental mechanisms that facilitate regional cooperation, address equity concerns, and respect local government autonomy. However, this Article argues that the SIB model of impact investing will struggle to advance metropolitan equity due to its grounding in the politics of neoliberalism.

After highlighting limitations of the SIB, this Article links contemporary debates about CED theory to historical contestations within the black community about economically-oriented racial uplift strategies. Placing historical figures, such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, in conversation with more contemporary theorists of political philosophy, this Article offers an alternative conceptual framework of CED. Termed justice-based CED, this framing distinguishes a typology of social change that places democracy at the epicenter of the development debate and points toward the political principles of the solidarity economy as guideposts for law reform. The justice-based approach rests upon three core values: social solidarity, economic democracy, and solidarity economy. Taken together, this perspective reflects a vision of political morality that embodies one of America’s most foundational democratic values — human moral dignity.


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