Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Michael Tomasky introduces Issue #34

By Michael Tomasky

Regulation is not a word that’s going to excite very many people—except, arguably, those who despise it—but in fact the regulatory arena has been, over the past century, the venue for many progressive triumphs. Decent workplaces, manageable workweeks, cleaner air and rivers and lakes—these and so many other public goods have come to the American people through effective regulation.

At the same time, it would be absurd to say that our regulatory state is without problems. The federal bureaucracy is slow-footed, makes things overly complex, and suffers a vast knowledge chasm in that regulators sometimes don’t really know how their rules are or aren’t working in the real world.

To these, we now add another complication. Our world and our economy are changing faster than we could have imagined 15 years ago. New technology and devices are changing decades-old habits and practices. The ascendant sharing economy, made real in online enterprises like Airbnb and Uber, is shaking up the traditional economy in a number of ways.

We do not say that this economy needs no regulation. But we do agree that it can’t be regulated under frameworks and rules that date to the 1970s or even back to the New Deal. For this issue, in conjunction with the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, we asked six experts who do a lot of thinking in this area to lay out their ideas for moving regulation into the digital age and the coming century. Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, describes how that agency is trying to modernize and become more nimble. Larry Downes makes a sharp case for a pro-innovation regulatory agenda in an era of constant disruption. John Mayo argues for “results-based regulation” that moves us beyond outmoded debates between top-down regulation and laissez-faire economics. Karen Kornbluh untangles the knot of different technology policies across international borders and offers some ideas about how to rationalize them. The last two pieces discuss the future of regulation more broadly and, specifically, the knowledge problem. Beth Simone Noveck explains that there have been some fascinating efforts, thanks to new technologies, to connect bureaucracies to people with deep expertise in areas they regulate. And Cass Sunstein argues that moving the public-comment process online is democratizing a rule-making system that has often been opaque.

Is political philanthropy effective? Few people know more about the subject than Gara LaMarche, who spent years giving away George Soros’s money and now heads the Democracy Alliance. We adapted for this issue a provocative lecture LaMarche gave last year that raises pressing questions about whether philanthropy’s goals are too timid, whether philanthropists have too much power, and even whether society wouldn’t be better off if we just taxed these wealthy people more and let the state spend their money. Yes. Provocative.

Rounding out the feature well, Susan Holmberg and Mark Schmitt take a smart look at the CEO pay problem and the growing stakeholder movement that could finally rein in the vast disparities between executives and their workers. And Ben Merriman offers deep insight into an important problem that’s under-discussed in political circles: how best to regulate and advance genetic research.

We welcome MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid to our pages for the first time, with a response to E.J. Dionne Jr.’s much-discussed “reformicons” piece. The book reviews feature Karen Ho on the young Wall Street go-getters and their ethics; Dayo Olopade on Howard French’s new book on China in Africa; Jacob Weisberg on Rick Perlstein’s Reagan; and David France, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director of the brilliant AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague, on David Boies and Ted Olson’s book on the same-sex marriage fight.

Michael Tomasky is the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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