Sabeel Rahman

Visiting Assistant Professor of Law

Fall 2017

Biography

K. Sabeel Rahman is an Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches courses on Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Law and Inequality. He is also a Fellow at New America and the Roosevelt Institute.

An interdisciplinary scholar of law, political theory, history, and economic policy, Rahman studies three related themes: first, the relationships between constitutionalism, social movements, and battles for economic and democratic inclusion; second, how policymaking institutions from regulatory agencies to local government bodies can be structured to be more participatory; and third, how to reinvent economic regulation and policy to address new forms of inequality, economic power, and the eroding social contract in today’s economy.

His first book, Democracy Against Domination (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores these themes through the intellectual history of economic regulation and the battles over financial and regulatory reform after the 2008 financial crisis. The book traces how ideas of democracy and economic power transformed from the Progressive and Populist eras to the Obama era, providing a critique of “managerial liberalism.” It then suggests what a more power-oriented and democratic approach to financial and regulatory reform might look like.

He is currently working on two new book projects. In Of, For, and By the People (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), he analyzes cutting-edge innovations in participatory governance and argues for a shift in the world of democracy reform to address underlying structural problems of power and accountability. In Infrastructure of Opportunity (forthcoming), Rahman explores how law constructs economic inequality, and how a more inclusive economy requires a restructuring of these underlying laws and regulations—from corporate governance to urban planning to antitrust and financial regulation.

In addition to his academic work, his writings have appeared in venues like The Atlantic, The Boston Review, Dissent, The Nation, and Salon.com. His work has also been featured in coverage in The New York Times, Slate, The Atlantic, and other venues.

From 2013-2016, Rahman served as the Research and Design Director of the Gettysburg Project, a Ford Foundation-funded initiative working with leading community organizers, academics, and funders to develop new strategies for long-term civic engagement and democratic renewal. From 2014-15 he served as a Special Advisor in the de Blasio administration in New York City, leading an inter-agency strategy and design process to help formulate a long-term, inclusive economic development agenda for the city. From 2015-2016, Rahman was appointed to the Rent Guidelines Board, which sets rent stabilization and rent control policy for New York City. He has previously worked as a researcher and advisor in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, and an advisor to the Governance Lab @ NYU, a hub for research and innovation on civic technology and democratic participation. He currently also serves as a Board Member for The New Press.

Rahman earned his J.D. and Ph.D in Government, both at Harvard University, as well as an M.Sc in Economics for Development and M.St in Sociolegal Studies from the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He has previously been the Reginald Lewis Fellow at Harvard Law School (2012-2014); a Graduate Fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (2010-11), and a fellow at Harvard University Center for American Political Studies (2011-12). He is also a member of the Tobin Project‘s scholar network.

Areas of Interest

K. Sabeel Rahman, Democracy Against Domination (Oxford Univ. Press 2016).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Banking & Finance
Sub-Categories:
Economics
,
Financial Reform
,
Law & Economics
,
Law & Political Theory
Type: Book
Abstract
"In 2008, the collapse of the US financial system plunged the economy into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In its aftermath, the financial crisis pushed to the forefront fundamental moral and institutional questions about how we govern the modern economy. What are the values that economic policy ought to prioritize? What institutions do we trust to govern complex economic dynamics? Much of popular and academic debate revolves around two competing approaches to these fundamental questions: laissez-faire defenses of self-correcting and welfare-enhancing markets on the one hand, and managerialist turns to the role of insulated, expert regulation in mitigating risks and promoting growth on the other. In Democracy Against Domination, K. Sabeel Rahman offers an alternative vision for how we should govern the modern economy in a democratic society. Drawing on a rich tradition of economic reform rooted in the thought and reform politics of early twentieth century progressives like John Dewey and Louis Brandeis, Rahman argues that the fundamental moral challenge of economic governance today is two-fold: first, to counteract the threats of economic domination whether in the form of corporate power or inequitable markets; and second, to do so by expanding the capacity of citizens themselves to exercise real political power in economic policymaking. This normative framework in turn suggests a very different way of understanding and addressing major economic governance issues of the post-crisis era, from the challenge of too-big-to-fail financial firms, to the dangers of regulatory capture and regulatory reform. Synthesizing a range of insights from history to political theory to public policy, Democracy Against Domination offers an exciting reinterpretation of progressive economic thought; a fresh normative approach to democratic theory; and an urgent hope for realizing a more equitable and democratically accountable economy through practical reforms in our policies and regulatory institutions." -- Oxford Univ. Press
K. Sabeel Rahman, Domination, Democracy, and Constitutional Political Economy in the New Gilded Age: Towards a Fourth Wave of Legal Realism?, 94 Tex. L. Rev. (2016).
Categories:
Constitutional Law
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Constitutional History
,
Law & Economics
,
Law & Political Theory
,
Supreme Court of the United States
Type: Article
Abstract
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. First, the paper excavates a substantive moral critique of economic power at the heart of Progressive Era thought, centered around the problem of domination — unchecked economic and political power — and the moral priority of democracy — the means by which such power is contested and checked. This rich political-economic critique of industrial capitalism offers a normative framework for imagining a more democratic and egalitarian response to the inequality crisis of today. Second, the paper suggests that this Progressive Era-inspired account of democratic political economy also implies a particular theory of social change that is worth recovering in today’s debates about the role of law and the role of the courts in the inequality crisis. The moral focus on domination and democracy orients us towards reform strategies that look to the ways in which law structures economic and political processes to allocate power, capabilities, and opportunities. These underlying structures emerge as critical sites of contestation, reform, and change. Thus, we might shift the terms of economic power through legislative and regulatory moves like antitrust and public utility; and we may magnify the democratic political power of citizens by creating alternative vehicles for voice and participation at the national or local level. Third, the paper suggests that this vision of social change in turn implies a very different reading of the role of constitutionalism and constitutional theory in political-economic debates. 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. Finally, the paper concludes by considering the implications of this domination- and social-movement-focused recasting of legal realism for ongoing debates about the relationship between legal inquiry and social change, particularly in today’s post-financial crisis era.
K. Sabeel Rahman, Shape of Things to Come: The On-Demand Economy and the Normative Stakes of Regulating 21st-Century Capitalism, 4 Eur. J. Risk Reg. 652 (2016).
Categories:
Banking & Finance
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Technology & Law
,
Corporate Law & Securities
Sub-Categories:
Risk Regulation
,
Economics
,
Financial Markets & Institutions
,
Business Organizations
,
Law & Economics
,
Cooperation, Peer-Production & Sharing
Type: Article
Abstract
The “sharing economy” represents a growing challenge to regulatory policy. In this article, I argue that these debates about the sharing economy are better understood as a broader normative and policy problem of updating our regulatory tools for the new dynamics of 21st century capitalism. The underlying issue is less about “sharing” and more about the shift to an “on-demand” economy driven by deeper structural changes in business organization, finance, and technology. I argue that we should analyze these changes through the normative lens of economic power: what is especially troubling about the on-demand economy is the way in which it outstrips the modes of accountability and countervailing power enabled by 20th century labor, safety net, and economic regulations. The article then suggests key frontiers for regulatory innovation, in particular: (1) expanding regulatory oversight of concentrated market and economic power among on-demand platforms; (2) expanding the relative power of workers to counteract the concentrated power of platforms in the on-demand economy (for example by expanding safety net protections and the ability to organize collectively); and (3) by reinventing systems for collective urban planning to account for the ripple effects of an on-demand economy. All three of these focus areas for regulation would entail a variety of specific interventions, but share a common premise of rebalancing economic power in this new economic order. Done right, these shifts would encourage more than an increase in welfare or efficiency, and instead offer the foundation for a new 21st century social contract that realizes genuine economic freedom and independence from domination of various kinds.

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