Inclusive governance, cities, and regulatory design

In these projects, I explore how we can build more participatory, responsive, and effective policymaking systems, from federal regulation to local government bureaucracies.  

In my book, I argue that regulatory agencies can and should be reformed to be more accountable and participatory, as a way of addressing concerns over regulatory capture and effectiveness.

Other works in progress:

  • "From Civic Tech to Civic Power: The Case of Citizen Audits" (under review).  Explores how the use of 'citizen audits'--the participatory monitoring and enforcement of regulatory standards--can both empower stakeholders and make regulation more effective. 
  • "Popular Administration" (in progress).  Develops an approach to administrative law and regulatory practice that takes seriously the ways in which regulation is influenced by civil society and stakeholder groups. 
  • "Policymaking as Power-building" (in progress).  Suggests that public policies be designed in ways that provide more equal voice to affected constituencies. Preliminary draft as presented at the Scholars Strategy Network and Ford Foundation convening on "Purchasing Power" here.  

Reforming the regulatory state

Rethinking Regulation

Roosevelt Institute White Paper, April 2016

A more inclusive economy depends on an inclusive political process. Regulatory agencies are central institutions in economic policymaking, yet regulators remain vulnerable to undue political influence from established business and industry interests. How then can we reinvent regulation to be more accountable and responsive to the public at large? This white paper provides a progressive framework for addressing the problem of regulatory reform. The paper argues that instead of seeking to undo regulations or further insulate regulators, we must instead pursue reforms that expand participation and representation for a more inclusive set of stakeholders within the regulatory process itself.


What Clinton and Sanders Are Really Fighting About

The Atlantic, February 2016

The Democratic candidates have revived an old progressive debate about whether big business can be regulated, or must be broken up.


Democracy and Productivity: The Glass-Steagall Act and the Shifting Discourse of Financial Regulation

Journal of Policy History, 24:4 (Fall 2012), pp. 612-643


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.


Envisioning the Regulatory State: Technocracy, Democracy, and Institutional Experimentation in the 2010 Financial Reform and Oil Spill Statutes

Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 48:2 (2011) 


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 moredemocratic 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.

Participatory policymaking

The Key to Making Economic Development More Equitable Is Making It More Democratic

The Nation, April 2016

How Oakland and other cities are experimenting with efforts to make local residents active participants in the development process.


Fighting Inequality in the New Gilded Age

Boston Review, September 2015

A review of new research on how participatory government can help counteract economic inequality.


Is Participatory Rule-Making Possible?

The Nation, March 2012

By giving people a direct voice in shaping regulations, we can make agencies more responsive and accountable, and give citizens a direct stake in policy-making.