Peer-Reviewed Articles

“Risk and Trouble: Adam Smith on Profit and the Protagonists of Capitalism.” In American Journal of Political Science 65, no. 1 (2021): 166-179. View | Link

Abstract: To better account for deepening global inequalities, political theory could greatly enhance empirical and normative work by answering a fundamental question: what is profit? When engaging political-economic questions, however, theorists often begin thinking from the concept of private property. This, I argue, has obscured the central role of profit as an organizing category for capitalist societies since the eighteenth century. Grounded in the dynamic and uncertain processes of production and accumulation, profit displaces the proprietary citizen and subject of natural rights and gives rise to new social protagonists, who lay claim to increasingly asymmetric rewards. In particular, the article calls attention to a dangerous contemporary sensibility, which sees profit as inherently unlimited. As a viable, robust alternative, it presents Adam Smith’s idea of profit as a regular, uniform rate that acts as a productive constraint on business activity, shapes character, and safeguards against risk by widely distributing its costs.

“The Environmental Justice Movement as a Model Politics of Risk,” Polity, forthcoming. View

Abstract: Risk carries unique significance for democratic politics today as it faces the challenges of rising inequality, neoliberalism, and systemic racism. To show how, the article divides “risk” into two complementary political models: a technocratic logic of risk allocation, concerned primarily with safety, and a forensic logic of risk attribution, concerned with holding risk takers and risky policies to account. Both have had pervasive effects on a transformed welfare state, increasingly focused on “personal responsibility” and privatized risk-management. But risk has also played a key role in the way post-1968 movements have organized and challenged the logic of privatization. Risk-based movements, the article argues, especially from the political margin, are key agents in promoting a new political form founded on risk attribution. The article focuses on the exemplary case of the American environmental justice movement in the 1980s and 90s as it reframed social justice around three core demands: accountability from decisions makers, equitable risk distribution (including redress for extreme inequities, past and present), and broad participation in decisions about danger and communities’ well-being.

“Bounded Action: Hannah Arendt on Modern Science and the Limits of Freedom.” In Philosophy and Social Criticism 46, no. 4 (2020): 431–451. View | Link

Abstract: The article asks why and how Hannah Arendt framed The Human Condition as a history of modern science. It answers that, in telling the history of instrumental rationality and the work of the experimental scientist, Arendt accomplished three main things. First, by identifying science as a form of “work” Arendt could demonstrate the significance of her threefold division of human activity into labor, work, and action, highlighting the dangers of their indistinction. Second, she used the form of organization typical of scientists—a professional community founded around standards of objectivity—to warn against the substitution of the appearance of publicity for true openness. Finally, she identified the transgression of the boundaries of action as the site where a political community might become visible to itself, taking the unsuccessful attempts of postwar “public scientists” to reckon with their past as a cautionary tale. Her account of modern science thus allows her to define freedom through its dependence on humanmade boundaries, politicizing the very act of history-writing.

Work Under Review 

“Uncertainty and Inequality in Early Financial Thought: John R. Hicks as a Reader of Frank Knight and John M. Keynes.” R&R, Cambridge Journal of Economics. Available upon request 

Abstract: This article looks at the early reception of Knight’s and Keynes’ accounts of uncertainty, and their outsize role in the development of contemporary financial economics. Knight’s famous distinction between risk and uncertainty, I argue, prompted not only a shift in economic paradigms, from static to dynamic, but bore deep social and political implications, dividing humanity into risk-takers and the risk-averse. This same distinction, along with its asymmetries of power and rewards, is reproduced in Hicks’ 1939 dynamic equilibrium model, recast as an opposition between hedgers and speculators in a market for risk. Hicks’s synthesis heeds both Knightian and Keynesian notions of uncertainty, adopting the former’s idea of profit-earning uncertainty-bearers and the latter’s emphasis on the collective propensity to hoard. His model thus raises a fundamental political question: is inequality a price worth paying for greater certainty in economic life.

“Uncertainty, Profit, and the Limits of Markets.” R&R, Political Research Quarterly. Link

Abstract: The article considers the place of the neoclassical equilibrium model as the basis for current views of markets as fair, efficient, or both. It also points to three threats the model poses for democracy and justice: it ignores the problem of inequality, it suppresses the socio-economic significance of uncertainty, and it conceals its own tradeoff between certainty and equality. Instead, the article lays out Frank Knight’s critical assessment of real markets, which rely on the tacit agreement between a handful of “daring” entrepreneurs and the “risk-averse” masses to bear the uncertainties of business-life in return for a substantially larger share of its direction and rewards. Knight’s influential conclusion, that this agreement mandates a nonmeritocratic social inequality and substantively divides humanity into leaders and followers, should be critically examined.

“Creativity and Social Organization: The Pragmatist Foundations of Knight’s Theory of the Entrepreneur.” In Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methodology, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit 100th Anniversary Symposium. Invited paper, under review. Available upon request

Abstract: In Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, Frank Knight laid out a seminal distinction between risk and uncertainty. Its most important political implication was the division of society into uncertainty bearers and everyone else, with the former assuming society’s leadership roles. In this article, I focus on the challenges this social division—rooted in a form of natural selection—posed for Knight’s own liberal commitments; the inherent tension between his view of a free society, the dictates of evolution, and the ravages of uncertainty. Knight’s solution was a social “double contract,” whereby uncertainty bearers earn the “rights to control” from those to whom they can (convincingly) guarantee “freedom from uncertainty.” Uncertainty bearing was not merely a technical designation, therefore, but a substantive social and political relation: the assumption of responsibility for outcomes affecting others. To explain Knight’s unique formulation, the article turns to its underexplored origins in the American-pragmatist tradition. Though Knight owes a significant debt to the pragmatists’ ethical method, evolutionary psychology, and theory of human consciousness, I argue, his theory of the entrepreneur should also be seen as an important political critique. Knight challenged the pragmatists on the illiberal potential of their key claim that organisms were future-oriented and added responsibility for uncertainty as the unstated social significance of their experimental ethical method.

Public Writing

“Do We Need Employee Ownership: A Response to Lenore Palladino’s ‘The American Corporation in Crisis’.” In Boston Review, October 2019. Link

Book Reviews

“Review of Adam Smith: Systematic Philosopher and Public Thinker. By Eric Schliesser.” In Perspectives on Politics 16, no. 4 (2018): 1162–1164. View | Link

“Review of Wealth, Commerce, and Philosophy: Foundational Thinkers and Business Ethics. Edited by Eugene Heath and Byron Kaldis.” In Journal of Business Ethics 150, no. 2 (2018): 599–601. View | Link

“Review of Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization. By Branko Milanovic.” In Business History Review 91, no. 1 (2017): 206–9. View | Link