Policy papers

Building Civic Capacity in an Era of Democratic Crisis. With Hollie Russon Gilman. New America - Participatory Governance Program. October 2017 (online here)

For several years now, the institutions of American democracy have been under increasing strain. Widening economic inequality, the persistence and increased virulence of racial and ethnic tensions, and the inability of existing political institutions to manage disputes and solve problems have all contributed to a growing sense of crisis in American democracy. This crisis of democracy extends well beyond immediate questions about elections, voting, and the exercise of political power in Washington. Our democratic challenges are deeper. How do we develop institutions and organizations to enable civic engagement beyond voting every few years? What kinds of institutions, organizations, and practices are needed to make public policies inclusive, equitable, and responsive to the communities they are supposed to serve? How do we create a greater capacity for and commitment to investing in grassroots democracy? How can we do all this while building a multiracial and multiethnic society inclusive of all? The current political moment creates an opportunity to think more deeply about both the crisis of American democracy today and about the democracy that we want—and how we might get there. Few scholars or practitioners would content themselves with our current democratic institutions. At the same time, generating a more durable, inclusive, and responsive democracy requires being realistic about constraints, limitations, and tensions that will necessarily arise. In this report we sketch out some of the central challenges and tensions we see, as well as some potential avenues for renewal and transformation. Based on a convening at New America in Washington, D.C. and a series of ongoing conversations with organizers, policymakers, and scholars from around the country, we propose a framework in this report to serve as a resource for continuing these important efforts in pioneering new forms of democratic governance. 


Centering the Margins: A Framework for Equitable and Inclusive Social Policy. Co-authored with Rachel BlackJanuary 2017. (online here)

Social policy does not disrupt patterns of economic and social division; instead it replicates them. We have a separate and unequal set of social policies that exacerbate inequality instead of providing a countervailing force against the factors that cause it. In our view, the only way to disrupt this cycle and redeem the equality of opportunity ideal is to replace our current separate and unequal system with one that embeds the ideals of inclusion and equity directly into our policies—and into the processes that design them. This new model applies the principles and methodology of human-centered design to social policy. That means originating policy design around the needs and wants of the families the policy is intended to serve and democratizing the process to include direct participation by the families. By centering policies around what will best serve the families who have been placed at the margins by the current policy approach, giving these families a meaningful voice in the design process, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions according to their outcomes, this model marks a radical shift in the power dynamics of how policy is made and who it works for. This paper offers a blueprint for putting this innovative proposal into practice.


Creating an Infrastructure of Opportunity. American Constitution Society. September 2016 (online here) [POLICY PAPER]

Many of the inequalities we face in today’s economy are not just a product of increased risk faced by poor families, contingent workers, and the like; rather they are products of deeper structural disparities in access to opportunities. Equal opportunity is not about fair competition or risk mitigation; it is fundamentally about freedom. If the goal is to provide freedom for each of us to develop the lives and experiences we have reason to value, then the purpose of social policies must be understood in terms of enabling access to those goods, services, and opportunities whose presence in turn enables that freedom—and whose absence narrows it. We can think of these as public goods in which our policies must invest. These public goods are not physical infrastructure like roads or bridges; they are a kind of “social infrastructure of opportunity” that makes possible a wider array of stable, secure life pathways. We must think of goals like universal healthcare, universal benefits like child care support, and universal access to pensions as the shared “infrastructure of opportunity” that can ease the precarity and poverty experienced by too many in America today. Practically, we must reevaluate our social contract and welfare policies in two further steps: identifying those elements of social infrastructure that are most critical, and developing a mix of public provision and regulatory oversight to ensure access to those goods and services.


Reinventing the Social Contract. Roosevelt Institute, September 2016 (online here).  [POLICY PAPER]

From the rise of the “on-demand” economy to the proliferation of low-wage, contingent, and precarious work, it is becoming increasingly clear that the old models of the social contract are eroding. This paper provides an overview of the drivers behind this collapse and the key frontlines in developing a 21st century social contract. First, it suggests that the collapse of the old social contract is rooted in deeper trends in technological change, financialization, and the reallocation of economic power in 21st century capitalism. Second, it argues that to address these changes, public policy must focus on three major goals: regulating the new forms of private power in the economy; expanding the voice and economic independence of workers through new modes of organizing and an updated social safety net; and creating more responsive and inclusive institutions of governance to implement these policy changes. These initiatives are about more than just worker rights and wages; they are fundamental to creating an inclusive and egalitarian economy.


UNTAMED: How to check corporate, financial, and monopoly power. Roosevelt Institute, June 2016. [POLICY PAPER]

I co-authored sections on competition policy and regulatory responsiveness for this White Paper on how to restructure economic rules to combat inequality.  You can read the report here, or view the panel from our launch event to the right, featuring Mike Konczal (Roosevelt Institute), Rana Foroohar (Time Magazine), Rashad Robinson (Color of Change), and myself. 


Rethinking Regulation. Roosevelt Institute April 2016  (online here) [POLICY PAPER]

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.


Case Study: What Worked in the Fight for Net Neutrality. Gettysburg Project for Civic Engagement (August 2015), online here. With Edward Walker, UCLA - Sociology; Michelle Miller, CoWorker.org; and Jenny Weeks

Despite being severely outgunned, net neutrality advocates won a major victory in February 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules that regulate ISPs as common carriers and require them to treat all customers equally. How did Net Neutrality shift from an obscure policy issue dominated by industry interests to a major focal point for grassroots movement actors? How did these movement actors successfully drive a major policy shift? This case study explores the movemetn organizing strategies, discourses, and coordinating efforts that turned the tide in the Net Neutrality battle.