Friday, August 21, 2009

Berk on Brandeis

Out earlier this summer from Cambridge University Press is Louis Brandeis and the Making of Regulated Competition, 1900-1932, by Gerald Berk, University of Oregon. Cambridge describes the book as
an innovative interpretation of industrialization and statebuilding in the United States. Whereas most scholars cast the politics of industrialization in the progressive era as a narrow choice between breaking up and regulating the large corporation, Berk reveals a third way: regulated competition. In this framework, the government steered economic development away from concentrated power by channeling competition from predation to improvements in products and production processes. Louis Brandeis conceptualized regulated competition and introduced it into public debate. Political entrepreneurs in Congress enacted many of Brandeis’s proposals into law. The Federal Trade Commission enlisted business and professional associations to make it workable. The commercial printing industry showed how it could succeed. And 30 percent of manufacturing industries used it to improve economic performance. In order to make sense of regulated competition, Berk provides a new theory of institutions he calls “creative syncretism,” which stresses the recombinability of institutional parts and the creativity of actors.

Some blurbs:

“Berk’s nuanced study of Brandeis is about the rejection of preordained categories and rigid formulas, by extraordinary policymakers and also by social scientists who seek to understand them. Ultimately, it is about the limitless possibility of politics to reorder familiar arrangements of state and economy in the interests of a differently-conceived world. Its publication could hardly be more timely.”
-Karen Orren, University of California, Los Angeles

“Berk recovers for us an improbably prescient Brandeis: an advocate and institutional architect who helps demonstrate the feasibility of a market order of ‘regulated competition’ that avoids the traditional, limited choice between antipathy to all business cooperation or regulated monopoly and, instead, encourages innovation while reducing the dangers of concentration (and we might hope today—the viral diffusion of catastrophic behaviors) through a Federally sponsored exchange of best practices and cost benchmarks within and across industry groups. This is history the way and when we need it.”
-Charles Sabel, Columbia Law School

Hat tip and image credit: Brandeis and Harlan Watch.