Center for Progressive Reform

Achieving Democracy

The Future of Progressive Regulation

Democracy is the ability to participate freely and equally in the political and economic affairs of the country. Americans have relied on philosophical pragmatism and on the impulse of political progressivism to express those creedal democratic values. But in their 2014 book, Achieving Democracy: The Future of Progressive Regulation, CPR Member Scholars Sidney Shapiro and Joseph P. Tomain argue that, in the last 30 years, by focusing on free markets and small government, the United States has lost its grasp on these crucial democratic values. Economically, the vast majority of Americans have been made worse off due to a historically unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the top one percent. Politically, partisan gridlock has hampered efforts to seek fairer taxes, responsive and effective regulation, reliable health care, and better education, among other needs. 

Published by Oxford University Press, Achieving Democracy critiques the history of the last 30 years of neoliberal government in the United States, and enables an understanding of the dynamic and changing nature of contemporary government and the future of the regulatory state. Shapiro and Tomain demonstrate how lessons from the past can be applied today to regain essential democratic losses within the successful framework of a progressive government to ultimately construct a good society for all citizens.

“The book is about the future of democracy and capitalism in the U.S. and how best to  reconcile the conflicts that exist between those two goals,” Shapiro says. “Conflicts exist because democracy is the way in this country we achieve collective aspirations and at least some of the time those aspirations are inconsistent with the market economy. Nevertheless many political leaders are more skeptical about government than the markets and skepticism is required regarding both. Markets will fail for lots of reasons with the most recent recession and financial crash being the latest example of this.”


Reviews for Achieving Democracy

"Achieving Democracy is a richly textured and beautifully argued account of the pragmatic capacity of administrative government, emphasizing the importance of understanding that capacity, and why we have failed to understand it. This book provides a solid foundation upon which to construct a more intelligent and sophisticated conversation about the potential of the US administrative state and how we should comprehend the interrelationship between markets and government." 

Dr. Liz Fisher, Reader in Environmental Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford 

"Achieving Democracy offers a sweeping portrait of and compelling brief for government regulation in the United States, from a philosophical, historical, political, economic, and ethical perspective. Shapiro and Tomain remind us that government regulation can be the friend of justice, liberty, and prosperity alike, and that the public ends of government are not adequately captured in the economic marketplace. Their call for a renewed and reshaped commitment to positive government could not come at a better time." 

Lisa Heinzerling, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center 

"IIn Achieving Democracy, Professors Shapiro and Tomain provide a powerful critique of laissez faire economic liberalism and pragmatic defense of government programs aimed at protecting the public from the perils of unconstrained markets." 

Tom McGarity, Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Chair in Administrative Law, University of Texas School of Law 


"Our current situation of political disenchantment and deadlock is a potential teaching moment, and Shapiro and Tomain are just the teachers we need. Drawing on a remarkable range of thinking in philosophy, political science, and law, they advance a revised conception of democracy, and a revised administrative practice to accompany it. Achieving Democracy is a great introduction to the most adventurous recent thinking about politics." 

William H. Simon, Arthur Levitt Professor of Law, Columbia Law School 


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