Constitutionalism, political economy, and democratic theory

In these projects, I examine how we should understand the fundamental moral values animating our politics and our economy. How have we understood values like freedom, equality, and democracy in the past? What do those understandings tell us about how to respond to the inequities 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.  

Current works in progress:

  • "From Economic Inequality to Economic Freedom: Constitutional political economy in the New Gilded Age"(forthcoming, Yale Law and Policy Review).  Provides an normative account of economic freedom adapted to the era of economic and political inequality, and implications for public policy, social movements, and public law.

Recent papers and talks

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.