The scholars featured here represent a sample of the many who have collaborated with one another and with the Tobin Project to advance research and programming in the various research initiatives.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA LAW SCHOOL
Tom Baker is a long-time leader in the Tobin Project’s Government & Markets initiative. In addition to participating in ongoing inquiries at Tobin, Tom has worked with Annelise Riles (Cornell University, Law and Anthropology) to initiate an interdisciplinary workshop series focused on Behavioral and Institutional Regulation. Previously, Tom participated in the Tobin Project’s Risk working group, then attended and moderated two Government & Markets conferences. It was at the second conference that Tom met Annelise, and the two discussed Annelise’s interest in the anthropology of finance alongside Tom’s interest in the field of insurance. Through these conversations, they identified the need to bring individually-focused disciplines into conversation with those focused on institutions as units of analysis.
“I think of myself as interested in a social field rather than in an academic discipline,” Tom says. “So I am very interested in connecting between disciplines because I need to understand what economics, psychology, and anthropology, among others, say about insurance.” The Behavioral and Institutional Regulation workshops have attracted scholars and practitioners from many disciplines and backgrounds for conversations about financial services reform, regulation of the financial sector, and regulation of the new health insurance market. Noting the value of these interdisciplinary meetings, Tom says that “scholars become better at investigating their own ideas if they see how other people do it. If they can learn from others, the disciplinary work they do will be better informed. It’s a terrific advantage.”
DUKE UNIVERSITY, HISTORY
In more than five years of work with the Tobin Project, Ed Balleisen has played an integral role in developing, advancing, and expanding the Government & Markets initiative. Taking an early leadership role, Ed worked with the Tobin Project to identify promising research paths, recruit leading thinkers in the field, and generate new scholarly work by organizing small, collaborative meetings. Ultimately, Ed became Chair of the Government & Markets initiative, leading its first conference in 2008 – “Government and Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation” – and going on to co-edit with David Moss (Harvard Business School) the published volume that grew out of the conference research. In 2010, Ed initiated a seminar at Duke on Rethinking Regulation, an inquiry that has drawn an interdisciplinary group of scholars to meet regularly with one another and with policymakers to develop research on meaningful frameworks for regulatory reform. Read about how Ed's research has affected regulatory reform »
“Working with Tobin in a leadership capacity has been an energizing experience,” Ed says. “The Tobin Project, in such a short time, has built a sufficiently strong reputation that people want to be a part of it, and when they get involved, they put their best foot forward.” The process of working with these scholars and helping to identify potential research projects has “created another strand of research activity of my own, which explores the role of private and quasi-public regulatory institutions," Ed notes. “I’ve become better acquainted with a wide array of scholarly perspectives outside of history that have made me understand the history of political economy and regulatory governance in much more layered, complex ways. I see patterns and dynamics I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, GOVERNMENT
Dan Carpenter’s interest in the politics of regulation and democracy, and his historical work on American regulators, drew him to the Tobin Project’s Government & Markets initiative early on. After attending the first conference in 2008, Dan offered important insight and direction to the initiative as it developed, contributed a chapter to the Government & Markets volume, and is now co-leading the Tobin Project’s Preventing Capture initiative and book project with David Moss (Harvard Business School).
At the 2008 conference on “Government & Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation,” Dan met Elizabeth Warren (Harvard Law School). “Harvard is a very big place,” Dan says. “And despite our shared interests, we had never met.” The two started to discuss the relationship between regulation and markets, comparing his knowledge of food, drug and pharmaceutical markets with her work on consumer finance. Over a series of conversations, they realized that there was a missing element, that regulations are supposed to do more than make markets safe. The two agreed that regulations could be market-constituting and ought to support markets in which consumers are better off – with more information, more confidence, and more choices.
Elizabeth incorporated this idea of market-constituting regulation into her proposal for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Dan advised legislators on elements of the potential agency before it became law as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010. Dan incorporated this idea into his own research with the Tobin Project, presenting a mathematical model that elaborated part of the “regulation constitutes markets” argument at a 2009 Tobin conference. He also wrote a chapter for Government & Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation (Cambridge University Press, 2010) on “How Regulations Constitute Markets.” “That essay,” he says “represents a big change in how I was approaching the FDA ideas as well.” In 2010, Dan released his much-lauded book Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA.
ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT; FORMERLY, STANFORD UNIVERSITY
As a scholar, Mariano-Florentino Cuèllar is interested in the intersection of law, politics, and policy, with particular focus on the effect of domestic law on national security and on the ways in which organizations deal with challenging legal problems. Formerly the Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, Tino now leads Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation. He brings the perspective of both a scholar and a policymaker to the Tobin Project’s Preventing Capture inquiry. In his contribution to the Preventing Capture volume, Tino writes about “Coalitions, Autonomy, and Regulatory Bargains in Public Health Law.”
Speaking about the difference between think tanks, universities, and the Tobin Project, Tino notes that “Tobin connects leading academics with the realities of public policy. Unlike think-tanks focused on synthesizing existing knowledge, the Tobin Project brings people together in order to address policy problems through rigorous research and to shape the agenda for future scholarship.” With respect to his work as part of the Preventing Capture initiative, Tino describes a recent meeting where “scholars from law, business, political science, economics, and history, as well as current and former policymakers . . . were engaged in a common effort to understand why some agencies work effectively and others are prone to be ‘captured’ by private interests. The conversation was both analytically rigorous yet intensely focused on existing challenges. There was a sense of shared purpose, reflecting the Tobin Project’s defining characteristic of combining intellectual honesty with a passion for solving some of the world's most pressing problems.”
YALE LAW SCHOOL, J.D. CANDIDATE
With her interest in regulation and the structures that allow implementation to succeed or fail, Ruth Anne French-Hodson was drawn first to the Tobin Project’s graduate student programs and then to its Government & Markets initiative. A former Rhodes Scholar, Ruth Anne received a Democracy & Market fellowship in 2011 to support her work on “Agency Structure and Industry Influence: A Case Study of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” Given the connection between her research and Tobin’s Preventing Capture initiative, Ruth Anne has participated in small discussion meetings with Tobin staff, policymakers, and scholar contributors to the forthcoming volume.
“In law and graduate school,” Ruth Anne notes, “you think you can’t contribute much because you are a student. [At the Capture meeting], I realized that I knew a lot and I could discuss the subject at a small-group level even with scholars very senior to me.” Some of the meeting presentations focused on case studies, which helped Ruth Anne think about the structure of her own work, which tends to be more theoretical. “The intergenerational and interdisciplinary aspect of the meetings is so interesting. It’s not just about distinguished names. It’s about mixing ideas and expertise.”
FOUR FREEDOMS CENTER FELLOW, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE
Sabeel Rahman, whose research interests focus broadly on democratic theory and political economy, has played an integral role in developing and advancing the Tobin Project’s graduate student programming and Government & Markets initiative. After working at the Tobin Project during the summer of 2009, when he developed an forthcoming article on “The Glass-Steagall Act and the Shifting Discourse of Regulatory Reform” (Journal of Policy History, Fall 2012), Sabeel became involved with the Government & Markets program. Sabeel's current research focuses on democracy in economic regulation, combining political theory with literatures in public law and economic policy. Attending multiple working group meetings and larger conferences at a time when his own research focus was still formative, Sabeel says that his relationship with Tobin “came at a really critical time – it helped sharpen and anchor my broad interests.” A former Rhodes Scholar and a leader in the Tobin Project’s graduate student community, Sabeel has helped to structure and lead the Democracy & Markets forum series, has recruited excellent student participants, and has presented several research projects for feedback from the group. His substantive contributions to Tobin Project research efforts and his advisory role on the programming side have been invaluable to these initiatives.
“It’s really the conversations that I think are most important,” Sabeel says. “For me as a young graduate student, getting that conversation going and knowing that I had interlocutors was really critical.” As a student whose work often extends beyond disciplinary lines, seeing examples of similar work and talking with established scholars interested in related ideas has offered Sabeel “a huge psychological and mental benefit in terms of community building and inspiration.” Sabeel says, “Without a critical community to talk and share insights with, it is really hard to come up with research ideas and to know what is worth working on.”
CORNELL UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, ANTHROPOLOGY
Annelise Riles began working with the Tobin Project’s Government & Markets initiative in 2008, attending the “Toward a New Theory of Regulation” conference. A scholar of anthropology and law, Annelise’s use of ethnographic methods to examine financial markets and regulatory relationships brought a unique perspective to the questions posed at the conference. Building on ideas and relationships from the meeting, Annelise worked with Tom Baker (University of Pennsylvania Law School) to develop and co-chair a working group focused on Behavioral and Institutional Regulation. This group, which brings together anthropologists, economists, psychologists, legal scholars, and policy practitioners, meets annually to develop innovative and interdisciplinary frameworks for addressing complex, regulatory issues. Tom and Annelise’s group has been remarkably successful at building vibrant conversation among scholars and practitioners from a wide array of disciplinary and institutional backgrounds.
“The Tobin Project,” Annelise says, “is a model for what a new kind of intellectual institution can look like.” Inspired by her experiences with Tobin, Annelise and Cornell’s Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture have launched Meridian 180, an online platform that facilitates trans-Pacific dialogue among policymakers and scholars. This dialogue builds on the model that Annelise has experienced at Tobin events: “You would expect that it would be a very difficult conversation to have – with no common language between policymakers and scholars of so many different disciplines. And yet, I had more ‘A-ha!’ moments at Tobin, more spark in my intellectual life, than almost anywhere else.”
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS-BOSTON, ECONOMICS
Peter Spiegler, whose research interests are in the philosophy of economics and economic methodology, is involved with the Tobin Project’s Behavioral and Institutional Regulation working group, initiated by Tom Baker and Annelise Riles in 2009. Through meetings with this interdisciplinary group of scholars and policymakers, Peter has built ongoing connections with researchers doing work directly relevant to his own, but whom he would not have met otherwise. “I met a number of anthropologists working on the anthropology of finance,” Peter says. “I hadn’t encountered this approach to finance before and after engaging with these scholars, I realized that their way of accessing their subject matter was precisely the kind of approach that, in my own work, I had been suggesting needed to be incorporated into economics. These meetings have been hugely beneficial in helping me to move my thinking on these issues forward.”
“Especially impressive about these meetings,” Peter says, “is the attitude of Tobin, which takes seriously the idea that the perspectives of all of the social sciences and of the various kinds of practitioners are crucial – not secondary – that it’s impossible to understand social issues properly without being open to all of these perspectives. At the Tobin events I have attended, all voices were taken seriously, everyone was interested in learning from what the others had to say.”
HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL, POLITICAL SCIENCE
Archon Fung, whose research focuses on transparency and citizen participation in democracies, has brought unique insights to the Institutions of Democracy inquiry as it has developed at the Tobin Project. In 2006, when the initiative was getting off the ground, Archon participated in interdisciplinary meetings and writing projects that helped to refine developing ideas and drive the work forward. At the 2009 “Future of Elections Scholarship” conference, Archon wrote a paper on “Popular Election Monitoring” that would later be included in the publication Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Then, in 2010, offering his perspective on issues of top-end inequality in the United States, Archon responded to Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker’s book, Winner-Take-All Politics (Simon & Schuster, 2010), during a panel discussion organized by the Tobin Project’s Economic Inequality initiative.
“It seems easy to measure Tobin by the ideas generated, or policy impact, or written product,” Archon says. “But that misses something. Tobin is a force in academia.” Archon finds that the perspective he gains from working with Tobin is uncommon, noting that “I am oftentimes focused on pretty narrow research topics, or students, or university business, and the work with Tobin brings me to see ideas I am already thinking about in a different light. I put them in a framework that is more accessible and more relevant to Tobin issues, which are public issues. I wouldn’t have done this work otherwise. I think the Tobin Project is really unique."
YALE LAW SCHOOL
With her work on elections scholarship, Heather Gerken has helped to develop and guide the Tobin Project’s Institutions of Democracy program since its inception in 2006. As chair of the initiative in its early years, Heather helped to structure and lead working group meetings, advance the ideas and research guiding the program, and build a community of scholars around its core research questions. In 2011, Heather worked with Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke Law School) and Michael Kang (Emory University School of Law) to co-edit Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011), a collection of essays from Tobin’s 2009 conference on “The Future of Elections Scholarship.”
“The Tobin Project is entrepreneurial, open, driven by data, not ideology, and focused on bringing as many perspectives to the table as possible,” Heather says. “In early meetings, Tobin continuously refined the strategy until we found something that really worked.” At a 2006 meeting, for example, participants were asked to propose “a little idea” that would improve democracy in America. Heather came with a proposal for a “Democracy Index,” which would rank states by how well they performed in the election system. Since that meeting, Heather’s “little idea” has expanded into a large research project, an award-winning book, and ultimately, into policy reform.
HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL, HISTORY; SOCIAL POLICY
A historian who focuses on labor and inequality as well as democracy in the United States, Alex Keyssar has contributed greatly to the Economic Inequality and Institutions of Democracy initiatives at the Tobin Project. In 2007, Alex joined other Tobin scholars to develop and focus research on elections and voting, which led to meetings with policymakers in Washington, D.C., articles published in the Boston Review, and a 2009 conference on “The Future of Elections Scholarship.” In 2010, Alex served as a discussant at the Tobin Project’s first conference on Economic Inequality and contributed to follow-up meetings that sought to identify the best paths forward for both initiatives.
“You can come up with terrific ideas,” Alex says, “when you spend time brainstorming in an atmosphere that really encourages brainstorming. Sometimes at academic events, people are focused on declaring their positions, and nobody is trying to work out different views or absorb new ideas.” Alex observes that “there is something different at Tobin. These meetings bring together people whose academic credentials are stellar, and they are committed to this work. There’s a sense of common purpose that is not routine at academic gatherings.”
YALE, Ph.D. CANDIDATE IN HISTORY
Chris Miller, whose research interests lie at the intersection between economic policy and domestic politics, has been involved in the Tobin Project’s graduate student programming since 2010. Participating in early seminars for both the National Security and Democracy & Marketsprograms, Chris now chairs the Democracy & Markets Graduate Student Forum and Fellowship program in New Haven, CT. With Chris's leadership, this program has been able to recruit students with a diversity of perspectives and facilitate a common conversation about how markets influence democratic institutions and how democracy shapes market structures.
“Some of the most cutting-edge work that is being done, the work that will shape how the next generation thinks,” Chris says, “is being done by graduate students.” Speaking about his experience in the Tobin Project graduate student forums, Chris notes that “The other students broaden my horizon about what is being done in social science. Regularly spending time with these people gives me familiarity with how other disciplines think and great opportunities to learn the perspectives of other disciplines on the questions I think about.”
BOSTON UNIVERSITY, ECONOMICS
Carola Frydman, whose research focuses on the evolution of firms and long-run trends in executive compensation, lends an important perspective on top-end inequality to the Tobin Project’s Economic Inequality initiative. In 2010 and 2011, Carola participated in two Tobin discussion meetings, which sought to explore the consequences of top-end inequality and to develop a set of questions that could move scholarship in this area forward.
“There is still so much discussion about what causes inequality,” Carola says. “So for me, to think about the consequences meant thinking about the problem in a very different way.” Junior scholars, Carola notes, are under great pressure to publish new work and rarely have opportunities, like those designed by the Tobin Project, to take questions relevant to their work and consider them from different angles and in broader contexts. “Some of the questions we were talking about are very important,” she says. “It is so helpful to hear what people in other disciplines are thinking about. I always learn something new. For me, this has been very enriching.”
POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW, SAFRA CENTER FOR ETHICS, HARVARD UNIVERSITY
In 2011, Julia received a Democracy & Markets fellowship from the Tobin Project for her work on “The Role of Perceived Meritocracy in Justification of Inequality.” For fellowship recipients in the Cambridge and New Haven areas, the Tobin Project facilitates a forum series in which grantees share early-stage research with an interdisciplinary group of co-grantees and other interested graduate students. Julia, an experimental social scientist by training, is conducting research that applies to, and finds roots in, many other fields of study. “I’m an experimentalist,” she says, “and because of my focus on establishing empirical support for my work, sometimes I feel like I am missing some of the important theoretical insights from different disciplines and methodological approaches. Before coming to Tobin meetings, I was only thinking about the psychology and behavioral economics perspectives on these questions. It was really exciting to speak with these students and to learn more about both the philosophical and policy-oriented way of examining the problem of inequality.”
After the introductory meeting, Julia read through papers suggested by the other students, delving into economics, sociology, and political science, and incorporated questions raised at the forum into her research study as new mechanisms to test. She adds, “since my primary interest has been on how individuals make decisions, and learning about this area, I initially spent less time thinking about the broader implications of my research for public policy. Here, I felt like I found people who were interested in the same ideas as I am."
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO, SOCIOLOGY
Lane Kenworthy began working with the Tobin Project in preparation for the 2010 conference on “Democracy & Markets: Understanding the Effects of America’s Economic Stratification.” With his extensive research into living standards, poverty, inequality, and mobility in the U.S. and elsewhere, Lane’s perspective helped build the intellectual structure of the conference, to which he contributed a paper, entitled “Has the Rise in Income Inequality Been Rawlsian?”
“It was the kind of thing you dream about as a social scientist,” Lane says of the conference. “An opportunity to take a few days talking about the things you care about with other scholars.” Building on ideas from the conference and strands of his own research, Lane became more interested in considering the consequences of inequality, and the question of why, outside of moral reasons, people should care about rising inequality. As part of his own research, Lane is now working on a project that considers the effects of inequality on other social outcomes. “Normally, I expect to learn one to three things when I go to a conference,” Lane reports. “At the Tobin conference, I came away with something an order of magnitude above that – maybe 30 insights and learning points. It gave me a lot.”
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, SOCIOLOGY
HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL, MALCOLM WEINER CENTER FOR SOCIAL POLICY
In the early stages of developing the Economic Inequality initiative, the Tobin Project asked Bruce Western, a lauded scholar of economic insecurity and inequality in America, to chair the initiative's opening conference. The conference focused on the potential effects of economic stratification in America, and, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, facilitated conversations about the role of finance and the financial sector. As co-chair, Bruce offered intellectual support and leadership throughout the planning process and the event itself, bringing together the most influential scholars in the field and pushing them to examine the most important potential consequences of inequality.
“The real innovation of that meeting,” says Bruce, “was thinking about how financial markets and the financial sector of the economy were implicated in the deterioration of economic security for ordinary households. As someone who studies poverty and inequality, this was a powerful synthesis of interests for me. Talking with scholars who work on finance and the financial crisis, I realized that these are two groups who don’t talk to each other enough, but clearly have a lot to say.” This uncommon yet intentional combination of people yielded conversations, relationships, and ideas that continue to drive this initiative at the Tobin Project.
MIT, Ph.D. IN ECONOMICS
A participant in the Tobin Project’s Democracy & Markets Graduate Student Forums, Tyler Williams researches program design and individual behavior in education and health initiatives. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, Tyler incorporates insights from psychology and sociology into his research in order to better understand individual decisionmaking and social contexts. “The interdisciplinary aspect of Tobin’s work is really helpful for me,” Tyler says. “I think it’s a valuable approach – to include multiple perspectives.”
Adding the perspective of a policymaker to the interdisciplinary group of students in the Democracy & Markets forum, the Tobin Project invited Dr. David Polakoff (Chief Medical Officer of MassHealth) to attend an April 2011 meeting and respond to Tyler’s research on a recent MassHealth initiative. “Looking as a researcher on the outside at this program,” Tyler says, “it’s hard for me to know why things are designed a certain way or why they went with the program they did. Dr. Polakoff explained a lot of this reasoning to me, and his insight shifted my thinking from an evaluation point of view. It helped me refocus my analysis.” In addition to Dr. Polakoff’s ideas, Tyler was able to get targeted, interdisciplinary responses from the other graduate students in the group. “It’s been really great for me to interact with people in other disciplines and see how research is done there,” Tyler says. “The participants gave me feedback that challenged and helped push my research in a smarter direction.”
MIT, Ph.D. IN POLITICAL SCIENCE
Nathan Black has been working with the Tobin Project since 2008, when he spent the summer at Tobin conducting an evaluation of neo-conservative conceptions of U.S. national security. Since then, Nathan has attended Tobin conferences as a student participant, has co-led seminars and programs for graduate students in security studies, and has received grants to support his research and dissertation work.
“I may be the first person whose dissertation was born in the Tobin conference room,” Nathan says. At a 2009 Graduate Student Forum in National Security, Nathan was debating with another student the justifications for U.S. intervention in faraway civil conflicts. Policymakers have often based intervention decisions, Nathan realized, on the possibility that conflicts would spread across borders. And yet there was very little scholarly work on the subject. Nathan’s dissertation, a theory of how and why civil conflicts spread, grew out of these early conversations, and has been further supported through research grants and periodic consultations with the Tobin Project. “I see my career as bringing even-handed, well-informed knowledge to D.C.,” Nathan says, “and Tobin has stood behind me on that.”
NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY, HISTORY
As a historian with a strong interest in the contemporary relevance of historical research, Carolyne Davidson came to the Tobin Project’s first National Security conference as a graduate student excited about the opportunity to discuss scholarship with a like-minded community. Early in her graduate studies, Carolyne faced skepticism from others about the role of historians in contemporary society, particularly in the policy realm. “At Tobin,” she says, “I had a wonderful opportunity to talk with policy studies and political science graduate students, as well as an older generation of scholars who accepted that a historian might have something relevant to say.”
Toward the end of that first conference in 2008, Carolyne raised the idea of multilateralism, noting that the topic had not been discussed thus far. Following the conference, the National Security initiative built on this and other questions to drive a multi-year research inquiry into the potential for balancing military and nonmilitary tools to advance U.S. interests abroad. In 2010, Carolyne contributed a chapter to a Tobin volume on the subject.
“Academic institutions can be very inward-looking,” Carolyne says. “At Tobin, the opportunity to talk to professors at other institutions, and build relationships with them over successive meetings, was remarkable. It confirmed that my Ph.D. topic was worth pursuing.”
TUFTS UNIVERSITY, POLITICAL SCIENCE
BELFER CENTER, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL
Kelly M. Greenhill, whose current book project examines nonfactual sources of information used to assess security threats, has been involved in the Tobin Project’s National Security initiative since 2008. Moderating a session on “Identity and Ideas” at Tobin’s 2008 conference, Kelly was already thinking about the problematic role of misperception in policymaking and drew on ideas at the conference to crystallize her thinking in this area. At the 2009 conference, “America & the World: Power Through Its Prudent Use,” Kelly spoke with a number of scholars about her developing book project and “came away with a number of new insights” – especially from historians, whose perspective pushed her to think about the structure of the book in a new way.
“One theme that arises repeatedly at Tobin and that pervades this current project,” Kelly says, “is the role of ideas and the significance of potentially pernicious beliefs in foreign policy and public diplomacy.” As she has pursued this line of inquiry in her own research, Kelly has found that “Tobin has been profoundly helpful in giving me opportunities to interact with people I wouldn’t otherwise.” Even beyond Tobin’s National Securitywork, Kelly has drawn inspiration and benefit from the research in Tobin’s other initiatives: “I am exposed to a set of ideas – in economic regulation, for example – that I would not come across otherwise and that have been enlightening and intellectually fruitful. The interdisciplinary cross-fertilization is very important.”
DIRECTOR, ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
Mira Rapp-Hooper, whose research interests coalesce around nuclear weapons and nuclear nonproliferation, attended her first Tobin Project National Security conference in 2010. At the conference, which focused on “Power Through its Prudent Use: Strategies and Instruments for U.S. National Security,” Mira presented an early-stage research paper with her co-author, Frank Gavin (University of Texas-Austin, Political Science).
Mira and Frank had begun discussing the ideas behind their paper in the summer of 2010 and took the winter Tobin Project conference as an opportunity to put the ideas on paper. The article that resulted, entitled “U.S. Preventive War Thinking in the Nuclear Age – A Reassessment,” included a broad range of ideas. “We knew that we hadn’t determined what the core of the project would be,” Mira says. “Barry Posen in particular made a comment that got at the core, pushed us to focus as we went forward on that particular issue – of U.S. preventive strikes against emerging nuclear powers.” Of the overall conference experience, Mira says: “It was a terrific opportunity – some of the best scholars and feedback. Tobin is a fantastic resource and vetting area for ideas that are exciting but yet to be distilled.”
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS-AUSTIN, HISTORY
L.B.J. SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND ROBERT S. STRAUSS CENTER
A current co-chair of the National Security initiative, Jeremi Suri has played a pivotal role in building an exceptional scholar network and a discerning research agenda. In addition to writing for and moderating at multiple Tobin conferences, Jeremi has participated in small meetings with policymakers in Washington, D.C., and in 2010 published a paper in a Tobin Project volume, The Prudent Use of Power in American National Security Strategy. Jeremi’s most recent book, Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama (Simon & Schuster, 2011), builds on his work with the Tobin Project. In 2011, Jeremi is leading a new Tobin Project inquiry, which asks: “What is the most sustainable path forward for American national security strategy, taking into account the limits to American resources and the challenges posed by the growth of new political and economic actors?”
“I think one of the strengths of Tobin is that we create space for informality,” Jeremi says. “And it is there that people can be more flexible. Creating space for the informal conversations, the spontaneous interactions and ideas that evolve from them, these little things can develop into something important.” The focus at all of Tobin’s meetings is on the questions, but the ideas only advance through collaboration between scholars, who may never have met before and who bring different academic perspectives. Scholars are encouraged to connect, and, as Jeremi has, to follow up with one another outside of Tobin activities. “I’ve made a lot of friends through this process and I’ve become a better scholar because of that,” Jeremi says. “And that’s probably more than anything else why I keep coming back.”
DARTMOUTH COLLEGE, GOVERNMENT
A long-time contributor and now co-chair of the National Security initiative, Ben has moderated and written for Tobin Project conferences and publications, facilitated small group meetings, and helped to guide the course of Tobin’s National Security research since 2006. In 2011, Ben is spearheading the Tobin Project’s inquiry into U.S. security commitments, which aims to inventory these commitments, to systematically assess their costs and benefits, and to determine whether the interests served by such commitments could be achieved in less costly ways. In August 2011, Ben chaired a seminar on the subject, bringing scholars and members of the Defense and State Departments into conversation around early-stage papers to develop paths forward for the inquiry.
“No one can look at the subject and fail to understand why these are important issues,” Ben says. “But they get orphaned in academia because there is not a natural place for the interchange between policymakers and academics to do this sort of thing well.” Through the Tobin Project, Ben has observed that “academics are able to help policymakers understand the best policies they might adopt and the best arguments for them. Policymakers can help academics understand the range of policy options that are possible given the political climate. And we can work together to find the optimum answer.”
MIT, POLITICAL SCIENCE
Steve Van Evera has been chair of the Tobin Project’s National Security initiative since its inception in 2005. Steve has set the agenda for the initiative, recruited scholars, and organized and led National Security working groups and conferences. Steve has also written for and edited two Tobin Project volumes and is now chairing the Tobin Project’s inquiry within National Security into “High Politics Solutions to the Afghanistan Crisis.”
“I tried to recruit the smartest, most learned people in the national security field,” Steve says, speaking about the scholars who have built the core of this initiative. “But I also looked for a commitment to public-policy problem-solving, and a willingness to help others.” This willingness – to share, support, and encourage unconventional and new thinking – is an essential aspect of the Tobin Project’s work and requires a community of scholars and policymakers who believe in the value of collaboration. “We want people dedicated not to their own greatness, but to solving important problems. And we want team players who will help one another to develop solutions. It’s a group effort,” Steve says.