Until January 2021, I was Vice President for Policy at the Niskanen Center, where I oversaw our policy team’s research and writing and worked with Washington, D.C. policymakers on a wide array of issues including housing, cash benefits for children, regional economic divergence, and Covid response. My own research and writing focused on the challenge of revitalizing liberal democracy in an age of polarizing multicultural urbanization, as well as the development of a social and economic policy agenda that reconciles libertarian ideals of economic freedom with the modern liberal welfare state. After the election of Donald Trump, I launched and managed Niskanen’s Open Society Project, an initiative to understand the roots of authoritarian populism and refresh the case for liberal democracy in the face of rising threats. My 2019 monograph, “The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization and Populist Nationalism” has become a standard reference on polarization and populism cited by leading scholars such as Dani Rodrik, Pippa Norris, Richard Florida.
Earlier in my think tank career, I was a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute, where I worked on questions around inequality, the application of “happiness research” to public policy, and entitlement reform. Before that I spent a few years at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where I managed the center’s network of scholars, organized academic conferences involving some of the world’s top economists, philosophers, and political scientists, (including Nobel Prize-winners like Linn Ostrom, Douglass North, and Vernon Smith) and synthesized scholarship on social and political change for the Koch Foundation.
Before joining Niskanen, I was U.S. Politics Correspondent at The Economist. I’ve been a regular commentator on public radio’s Marketplace, and a columnist for The Week and Vox, as well as a Contributing Opinion Writer for The New York Times. Over the years I’ve published on a wide array of subjects, including immigration, populism, cities, fiscal policy, regulatory barriers to opportunity, happiness research, behavioral economics and economic inequality in the Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Bloomberg View, Politico and other publications.
I currently write and publish Model Citizen, a popular Substack Newsletter.
My academic background is in philosophy and liberal political theory, as well as creative writing. I’ve taught at Howard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, Kerry Howley, our two kids, Felix and Ottavia, and a very elderly Vizsla.