The Third Way

A Novel

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Pub Date 23 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 30 Sep 2022

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Description

After losing her college scholarship, Arden Firth—with the help of Justin Kirish, a law student with a mysterious past—becomes the reluctant leader of a movement to ban corporations. South Dakota Ballot Initiative 99 is Arden’s last hope to save her grandmother’s farm from foreclosure; but as the movement grows, shadowy forces conspire to quash it, and Arden sees “99” begin to spiral out of her control.

A novel charting the intersection between idealism, extremism, and forgiveness, fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood will love The Third Way—the story of a young woman struggling with her own demons while trying to articulate a vision that could change the world.

After losing her college scholarship, Arden Firth—with the help of Justin Kirish, a law student with a mysterious past—becomes the reluctant leader of a movement to ban corporations. South Dakota...


A Note From the Publisher

Behind THE THIRD WAY
The Third Way emerged in 2017, when I was trying to write a different book. The idea of a corporation ban, and the characters who would advocate for it, edged their way in. Personally, I was struggling with how to be a leader at my job in a Fortune 500 corporate Law Department and thinking about women’s leadership—how it is perceived in the workforce and in politics, and why it felt so uncomfortable to me. I was also thinking about the role of work in my life, sometimes resenting the obligations and compromises of adulthood. Much of Arden’s experience is born of my own.

US politics were in turmoil, and I was, like many women, thinking about political action. Although numerous forces were at play in the 2016 election, the Republican party’s promise to cut corporate income tax made corporations throw money behind the issue, and that helped tip the scales. The 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United declaring corporations to be “persons” under the law, entitled to free speech protection and unlimited dark political spending, was fresh in my mind.

As an attorney, I was working on corporate mergers and divisions, using those state laws that create and govern corporate structure and formation. This got me to thinking, how can the federal constitution protect corporations’ free speech, supposedly inherent to the rights of “persons,” if corporations rise and fall under state law? Would it be possible, I started to wonder, to abolish corporations in a particular state through a ballot initiative? Could voters band together and decide that they’d had enough? Just like voters took back the right to legislate and began to legalize marijuana across the country, using the ballot initiative process.

I work at a great company. It welcomes debate and dissent, and over the course of its 200+ year history, can count Wallace Stevens and Mark Twain as an employee and director, respectively. Over my time there, I’ve seen the company be attacked from the outside by activist investors that forced it to sell off a part of the business. I have also seen how the imperatives of profit and growth drive decision-making.

South Dakota was the perfect setting for my book, as the first state in the union to pass a voter-initiative process in the 1800s. In the novel, Arden is inspired by her grandmother’s volunteering in her youth on the ballot campaign for anti-corporate farming laws, which South Dakota voters passed in the 1970s to protect family farms and prohibit corporations from owning agricultural land. Conversely, South Dakota has some of the most pro-corporation banking laws in the country and transformed the credit card industry in the 1980s by lifting limits on interest that could be charged, paving the way for predatory lending and enticing banks to relocate to Sioux Falls. And lastly, while a corporation ban is pure fiction, parts of the story are rooted in real life events. South Dakota was the scene of a dramatic anti-corruption ballot initiative passed by voters in the 2016 election, only to be repealed in a midnight session by the very state legislature that voters sought to curtail. The Dakotas are also home to the Standing Rock Sioux, who made headlines in 2016 for their historic resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. In my book, I wanted to empower those indigenous activists who stood up against the DAP, giving them the power to tip the scales on passing the ballot initiative.

Part of the story of The Third Way is about the ease of conspiracy theories and reflexive malcontent. It is easy for people to demonize institutions (lawyers, corporations, government) rather than engaging with seemingly intractable complex problems. Idealism, extremism, and compromise are topics I think a lot about.

I’m not advocating that we abolish corporations (it’s a novel!), and the way the corporation ban is structured in The Third Way would almost certainly be unconstitutional. But I think the idea is a startling reminder that corporations exist at the will of people, and we should control the laws, not corporations. Their role in our society is not a foregone conclusion. The novel explores why the idea eliminating corporations feels so controversial. Are corporations a required element in our democracy? If not, maybe they shouldn’t have a say in how we govern ourselves and the planet.

Behind THE THIRD WAY
The Third Way emerged in 2017, when I was trying to write a different book. The idea of a corporation ban, and the characters who would advocate for it, edged their way in...


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