”Private Power, Public Politics”. Presented at Harvard University Political Theory Workshop; Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Graduate Fellows Workshop; and at Writing Cities 2011 Conference (LSE). | “Republicanism and Regulation”. Draft in progress. | “Progressive Cosmopolitanism: Political Agency, Public Sphere, and International Action”. Presented at Harvard Government Department Political Theory Workshop, revised draft in progress. | “Expertise, Markets, and Democratic Judgment in Financial Regulation”. To be presented at Harvard Law School Legal History Workshop.
The kind folks at Veritalk, the podcast of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, were nice enough to have me join them to chat about democracy, Obama, and the financial crisis. Thanks guys!
Journal of Policy History, 24:4 (Fall 2012), pp. 612-643
Available online here. Earlier SSRN version here.
In the fall of 2008, the United States experienced a sudden financial crisis that plunged the financial sector into disarray, provoked the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and gave rise to an ongoing series of highly contentious debates over economic regulation. Two years later, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, one of the largest overhauls of financial regulation in history. Throughout this debate, much of the discourse of financial reform revolved around concepts such as consumer protection, the problem of the “systemic risk” posed by the failure of financial institutions that could have vast negative spillover effects, and the clash between proponents and critics of expanded federal regulatory oversight. But despite deep-seated public anger against financial firms and accusations of abusive practices of securitization and subprime mortgage lending, the public discourse of reform politics exhibited little evidence of more aggressive arguments against the concentrated economic and political power of big finance—arguments that had historically animated antitrust and financial reformers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.2 This current era of ongoing debate over the role of the state in regulating the financial sector suggests an opportune moment to reexamine the language and arguments of an earlier era of financial regulatory reform: the debate around the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. …
The reform discourse in Congress surrounding Glass-Steagall parallels many of the debates in our current historical moment. Then, as now, policy- makers struggled to conceptualize the precise nature of the economic challenge and how reforms ought to respond. Then, as now, the dominant narrative was primarily one where reforms were targeted toward promoting economic productivity and stability. Yet at the same time, there was a strong undercurrent of a more aggressive and moralized critique of financial greed and excessive power. This historical debate around Glass-Steagall from 1931 to 1933 is especially interesting because it captures an important shift in discourses of reform, from earlier Progressive Era reform discourses to the kinds of language that would mark the New Deal and postwar eras—a shift that would ultimately have profound consequences for more recent debates on financial regulation.
Progressive politics depends on a robust vision of the role of government in modern society–which in turn requires a concerted effort to both defend and reform government. The latest issue of The Nation offers some ideas, from rhetoric, campaign finance reform, and federalism, to my own piece on participation in regulation.
“Beyond the Free Market”: Progressivism has at its heart a distinct view of freedom that pushes us towards a fairer economy and a more democratic society. Advancing this vision requires reclaiming the language of freedom from its more conservative and free-market valence today. See my essay at Salon here.
What would a progressive economy look like? A new series at Salon tries to answer. See my introductory essay here.
Brandeis’ vision of citizenship–and its implications for the economy and democracy. Second installment of the new blog series on Progressive Citizenship. Full post at New Deal 2.0 here, or at Citizen Think here.
Progressive Citizenship: A new blog series cross-posted at New Deal 2.0 and Citizen Think. First installment here or here.
Interview on Occupy Wall Street, October 2011, at New Deal 2.0
Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 48:2 (2011) (available here)
In the summer of 2010, Congress considered legislation responding to two very different policy crises: the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill responding to the 2008-9 financial crisis, and the CLEAR Act responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While addressing different policy issues, both of these statutes were centrally concerned with reforming the structure of the regulatory state itself to promote more effective policymaking, particularly in response to fears of agency capture, and a lack of responsiveness or accountability. This paper analyses the two statutes side-by-side as exhibiting a common set of visions and concerns about the regulatory state. On the one hand, both statutes exemplify a technocratic impulse common in American political thought and policy. Under this approach, regulatory effectiveness is promoted by expanding the expertise, coordination, and political insulation of agencies. But at the same time, both statutes engage with a range of experiments with more democratic regulatory reforms—expanding participation in regulatory policymaking, establishing formal mechanisms for interest representation, creating additional democratic counterpublics where citizens can engage and policies can be innovated, and promoting vertical accountability within corporations. While these debates about democracy and the regulatory state are long-standing ones in administrative law, these statutes raise some innovative institutional approaches that together hint at a potentially fruitful alternative framework for regulatory reform, one that harnesses the potential of democratic politics to respond to concerns about agency capture, responsiveness, legitimacy, and accountability.