20th Century US History Workshop

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
2:00 pm
Event Location: 
Nau 342

The 20th Century Workshop will meet to discuss Benji Cohen and Erik Erlandson's prospectuses. (Please see their abstracts below).  

Benji Cohen: "Outsourcing Democracy: The Neoliberalization of Washington, D.C.'s Public Schools, 1970-2014"


My dissertation chronicles a radical transformation in urban public education over the last forty years. Focusing on Washington, D.C., I demonstrate the process by which the school system adopted neoliberal education policies. A reform coalition made up of both Republicans and Democrats, business leaders, and independent policy entrepreneurs, managed to take control of Washington’s public schools, emphasizing privatization, choice, efficiency, competition, and the free-market. This shift from traditional public schooling to a neoliberal model has manifested itself through new models like vouchers and charterization, the emergence of non-public influences like Teach for America (TFA), and the reliance upon high-stakes standardized tests


Erik Erlandson: "Redesigning the State: Federal Courts and the Emergence of Reagan's Deregulatory Bureaucracy"


My dissertation explores how lawyers, judges, executive officials, and other political actors transformed the legal mechanics of the administrative state to help bring about deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s. Administrative law, the body of legal rules that governs the bureaucracy, had been dominated by overzealous courts in the preceding two decades. Inspired by the idea that agencies were prone to “capture” by regulated interests and could not be granted broad discretionary authority, federal courts forcefully intervened in the administrative process to ensure that agencies remained accountable to the public writ large. They did so by foisting on administrators an array of new procedural requirements. But judicially-enforced “interest representation” only increased regulatory obligations, and thus clashed with new and wildly popular neoliberal ideas like deregulation. If agencies were to retreat from the private sector and regulate less, courts would have to stop demanding more and more of them.

“Redesigning the State” thus argues that conservative legal thinkers had to empower the bureaucracy vis-à-vis the courts in order to liberate different sectors of the economy. Bureaucratic discretion and deregulation were strange bedfellows because, after years of judicial oversight that amplified administrative obligations, Republican agency staffers desperately needed institutional independence to move in a different direction. Administrators needed courts that would defer to their expertise. In the 1980s a spate of new legal doctrines pushed courts and administrative law in this deferential direction. These doctrines would allow agencies like the Federal Reserve, FTC, and EPA, for instance, to weaken regulatory programs through heightened bureaucratic capacities. On its face deregulation refers to the removal of the state from the private sector, but my project shows that administrative power and market liberalization are not necessarily at odds. The realities of regulation are more complicated than the convenient dichotomy between “markets” and “government” might suggest.