Updates: Democracy

In the spring of 2010, the Tobin Project issued a call for fellowship aplications from students doing work that addresses the intersection between democratic institutions and economic markets. Fellowships were awarded to fourteen students, whose projects ranged from "Policymaking at the U.S. Federal Reserve" to "Farming Families, Farm Policy, and the Business of Southern Agriculture, 1940-1980." Many of the felloship recipients came together in September for the first fall meeting of the Democracy & Markets forum.

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Personal identity, long a concern of sociology, is now being incorporated into economic models thanks to the pioneering work presented in Identity Economics (Princeton University Press, 2010), a new volume by Nobel Prize-winning economist and longtime Tobin Project friend, George Akerlof (University of California-Berkeley, Economics), and co-author Rachel Kranton (Duke University, Economics). 

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The Tobin Project held its second graduate student forum on November 20. The day-long discussion centered on innovative new directions in the study of political economy — in particular, working through the implications of the recent financial crisis.

These interdisciplinary graduate student forums have involved 24 students from the nation’s leading Ph.D. programs, providing unique opportunities to develop and share new research on topics that fall outside of the narrow parameters of current academic discourse.

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Members of the Tobin Project’s Institutions of Democracy working group collaborated with The American Prospect in May to produce a series of white papers and blog posts responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to decline to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, designed to protect minorities from facing obstacles to voting.

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Today’s doctoral students will shape the intellectual paradigms that influence our public policy in the future. Yet this larger project can be obscured by career concerns and an attendant need to not stray too far from a discipline’s intellectual orthodoxies.

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Elections scholarship has a long and distinguished history in the social sciences, and it emerged as a full-fledged legal discipline during the 1990s. Its academic and policy significance was underscored by the tumult surrounding the 2000 presidential election, which sparked a growing interest in the field and spawned new interdisciplinary work between law professors, social scientists, and historians.

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On June 23, 2007, the Institutions of Democracy working group met to chart a path forward for the initiative. Participants grounded their discussion with a collection of short, idea-generating pieces prepared by members of the group. Conversation transitioned to a focus on the main obstacles of reform of the election system and the types of policies and institutions that would enable the election system to run better.

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In the Spring of 2007, three new Tobin Project working groups came together to discuss fundamental unanswered questions in their field and set an agenda for future research and engagement. These early working group meetings included Macroeconomics (with Representative John Spratt, Chair of the House Budget Committee), Health, and Retirement Security.

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The Institutions of Democracy working group published a series of essays, "Six Ways to Reform Democracy" in the Boston Review’s September/October 2006 issue, “Seeds of Change.” With an introduction from Heather Gerken (Yale Law School), the essays offer six ideas to improve democratic governance in the United States.

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In June 2006, the Tobin Project piloted its working group model during two full-day sessions. Eleven scholars from the National Security working group met in Cambridge with Congressman Ike Skelton (Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee), Congresswoman Jane Harman (Ranking Member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), and Rear Admiral Mark Ferguson (Chief of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Navy). Ten members of the Institutions of Democracy working group met in Washington, D.C.

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