Laura Phillips Sawyer

Political Theory Project

Laura D. Phillips received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia (2011) where she specialized in U.S. legal, business, and political history. Her scholarship examines the history of American capitalism between the late nineteenth century and the New Deal era, focusing on the economic and legal transformations that created modern American liberalism.

Currently, Phillips is revising a manuscript, entitled American Fair Trade: Proprietary Capitalism, Networks, and the ‘New Competition,’ 1890-1940, which blends business history, legal theory, and the history of economic thought to demonstrate that the history of American capitalism is more than the rise of big business and mass consumerism. By recovering the forgotten history of the American Fair Trade League, which conducted the first fair trade marketing campaign to support ethical consumption and local production and retailing, she shows how these business associations successfully banded together to retain market power, shape consumer demand, and influence the development of business law. Ultimately, they helped determine the structure of the modern administrative state. Understanding the origins of this movement and its influence on American political development helps explain the diversity of American capitalism as well as the reason similar cooperative business models and campaigns for fair trade consumer goods raise the ire of regulators even today.

Phillips has also authored a separate article, entitled “Contested Meanings of Freedom: Workingmen’s Wages and the Company Store System, Godcharles v. Wigeman,” forthcoming in The Journal for the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (Summer, 2013). This article explores the late nineteenth century origins of the “liberty of contract” jurisprudence, which became infamous with the 1905 case Lochner v. New York.