Political economy &
Democratic values

In these projects, I examine how we should understand the fundamental moral values animating our politics and our economy. How should we understand values like freedom, inclusion, equality, and democracy? What do historical and moral understandings of these ideas tell us about how to respond to the inequities and exclusions of today?  I write on these topics in areas such as constitutional theory, intellectual history, and political theory. 

In my book, I trace how ideas of democracy and economic power, which animated Progressive Era reformers, faded away by the late twentieth century, affecting how we think and act on issues like the financial crisis.  

I expand on these themes in my other works in progress, academic papers, popular writings.

Current works in progress

  • "Constructing Citizenship: Exclusion and Inclusion through the Governance of Basic Necessities". Forthcoming, Columbia Law Review (online here). This paper focuses on a particularly crucial—and often underappreciated—site for the construction and contestation of systemic inequality and exclusion: the provision of, and terms of access to, basic necessities like water, housing, or healthcare. We can think of these necessities as “public goods” in a broader moral and political sense: these are foundational goods and services that make other forms of social, economic, or political activity possible, and thus carry a greater moral and political importance. Precisely because of their importance, these goods create a unique kind of vulnerability: actors that can control or condition the provision of and access to these goods and services can in effect construct systematic forms of inequality and exclusion—which play a role in systemic racial and economic inequities. Conversely, equitable and inclusionary governance of these goods and services is critical to dismantling these structural inequalities and promoting a more inclusive and equitable social and economic order.

Academic papers

Reconstructing the Administrative State in an Era of Economic and Democratic Crisis

Harvard Law Review, Vol. 131 (2018), online via HLR here and SSRN here.
Harvard Law Review, vol. 131, forthcoming (2018) [Reviewing Jon Michaels' Constitutional Coup]. This Review engages Michaels’s important work, situating it in con- text of these wider economic and social battles to sketch a broader claim. The defense of the administrative state, this Review argues, is not just about assuring checks and balances; it is about preserving democracy — the idea that, through political institutions, we the people expand our capabilities and capacities to remake social and economic systems that are otherwise beyond the scope of individuals, associations, or ordinary common law. It is also about democracy in its substantive connotation: through the administrative state, we make possible the realization of substantive democratic values of equality and inclusion. 

From Economic Inequality to Economic Freedom: Constitutional political economy in the New Gilded Age

Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 35 (2016), pp. 321-36

This Essay has two central goals, one substantive and one methodological. Methodologically, I want to suggest that a progressive response to today’s inequality crises requires such a small-c constitutionalist approach. This shift to small-c constitutionalism is ultimately a catalyst for driving progressive social change. As a growing number of scholars are suggesting, the task of combating inequality is one of “constitutional political economy” — the project of interrogating and reforming the values and structures that shape our collective social, economic, and political life. By shifting our focus to public philosophy, social movements, legislation, and regulation, we put courts in their proper role as part of a larger ecosystem of actors, arenas, and institutions grappling with social change.


Domination, Democracy, and Constitutional Political Economy in the New Gilded Age: Towards a Fourth Wave of Legal Realism?

Texas Law Review, vol. 94 (2016), pp. 1329-59

What is the role of the constitution and constitutionalism in the current debate over economic inequality?   Drawing on Progressive Era political thought, especially reinterpreting the dawn of the legal realist movement, this paper offers a moral framework for conceptualizing today’s inequality crisis, and a theory of social change that links law, constitutionalism, public policy, and social movements.  The constitutionalism evidenced by Progressive Era and legal realist theorists of domination and democracy is not the high Constitutionalism of Supreme Court doctrine, precedent, or textual interpretation. Rather, it is the “small-c” constitutionalism of social movements, of public philosophy, and of the laws and regulations that literally constitute our politics and our economics. Constitutional political economy, on this view, is the concern not just of courts but of we the people. Its primary tools for change are not just judicial decisions, but legislative, regulatory, and other forms of ordinary governance.


Democracy against domination: Contesting economic power in progressive and neorepublican political theory


This article argues that current economic upheaval should be understood as a problem of domination, in two respects: the ‘dyadic’ domination of one actor by another (such as in the case of corporations over workers), and the ‘structural’ domination of individuals by a diffuse, decentralized, but nevertheless human-made system (such as the ‘market’ itself). Such domination should be contested through specifically democratic political mobilization, through institutions and practices that expand the political agency of citizens themselves. The article advances this argument by synthesizing two traditions of political thought. It reconstructs radical democratic theory from the Progressive Era (1880–1920). These thinkers in turn help to reinforce contemporary debates in neorepublican thought, resolving disputes over the scope of domination and the relationship between domination and democracy. This synthesis offers a novel normative framework for diagnosing and responding to the current combination of economic upheaval and political dysfunction.


Conceptualizing the Economic Role of the State: Laissez-Faire, Technocracy, and the Democratic Alternative

Polity 43:2 (April 2011), pp. 264-286

This article contrasts three visions of political economy that appear in the writings of Keynes, Hayek, and Polanyi. and discusses their relevance to current debates over economic policy in the United States.  Keynes proposed optimizing market practices through technocratic governance.  In recent decades, this influential approach has proven vulnerable to the revival of Hayek’s laissez-faire arguments.  Polanyi, by contrast, introduced a framework that criticizes both laissez-faire conceptions and the technocratic approach pioneered by Keynes.  Because of its emphasis on democratic participation, Polanyi’s reasoning provides the building blocks for a new type of contemporary progressive politics.

Popular Writings

How our changing view of the Bill of Rights has threatened our democracy. Washington Post, January 2018. (online here)

The Way Forward for Progressives, The New Republic, November 2016 (online here)