Contributing Editors

Jerome Lyle Rappaport

Jerome Lyle Rappaport
Founder and Board Member
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Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser
Professor of Economics at Harvard University
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Stephen P. Johnson

Stephen P. Johnson
Executive Director of Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation
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Greg Massing

Greg Massing
Executive Director for the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service
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Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts
Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School
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Joseph Curtatone

Joseph Curtatone
Mayor, City of Somerville
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Tim H. Davis

Tim H. Davis
Independent Research Consultant
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Scott Harshbarger

Scott Harshbarger
Senior Counsel, Proskauer Rose LLP
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Vivien Li

Vivien Li
Executive Director of The Boston Harbor Association
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Guest contributors

Monika Bandyopadhyay
Suffolk University Law Student

David Barron
Harvard Law School and former Deputy Counsel for the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Department of Justice

Linda Bilmes
Senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Assistant Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration.

Brandy H.M. Brooks
Director, Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, Bruner Foundation

Felicia Cote
Rappaport Fellow, Harvard Law School/Harvard Kennedy School.

Amanda Eden
Suffolk University Law School student

Sara Farnum
Student, Suffolk Univ. Law School

Kristin Faucette
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Benjamin Forman
Research Director, MassINC

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday
JD/MBA student at Suffolk University Law School and the Sawyer School of Business

Theodore Kalivas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

David Linhart
Student, Boston University School of Law

Antoniya Owens
Research Analyst, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Susan Prosnitz
Senior Advisor, TSA, Washington, DC

Ben Thomas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

Matthew Todaro
Student at Boston College Law School

Alexander von Hoffman
Senior Researcher, Joint Center for Housing Studies

Brett Walker
Student, Boston College Law School

Margarita Warren
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Articles by Alasdair Roberts

A Precipitous Situation, Not Without Precedent

Monday, July 11th, 2011
By Alasdair Roberts

Reprinted from the Boston Globe, July 10, 2011

Unless Congress acts, the United States will reach a statutory limit on federal debt in early August. The US Treasury might then default on its loans. This, says Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, would be “an unprecedented event in American history’’ that would inflict catastrophic damage on the economy.

But it isn’t entirely unprecedented. While the federal government has never defaulted, we’ve had a very similar experience.

Between July 1841 and December 1842, eight of the country’s 26 states defaulted on their loans. Other states and the federal government also struggled to avoid insolvency. The entire nation quickly became a pariah in international financial markets.

In 1842 the country was in the midst of its first great depression. A real estate bubble fueled by easy credit had burst in 1837. American banks that financed this speculation collapsed two years later. The economy ground to a halt.

Many states were caught up in the mania of 1836-37. They borrowed in Europe and competed with each other to build infrastructure that would open their markets. Legislators spent indiscriminately. Every new canal, railroad, and turnpike was supposed to pay for itself. But when the economy collapsed, so did the projects.

There was no toll revenue to repay the loans. Foreign creditors pressed the states to raise property taxes instead. But voters resisted new taxes, and many states simply lacked the capacity to collect them. So the states defaulted.

Read More...

WikiLeaks: The Illusion of Transparency

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
By Alasdair Roberts

It has been said that the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures marked "the end of secrecy in the old fashioned, cold-war-era sense." This is not true. Advocates of WikiLeaks have overstated the scale and significance of the leaks. They also overlook many ways in which the simple logic of radical transparency - leak, publish, and wait for the inevitable outrage - can be defeated in practice. WikiLeaks only created the illusion of a new era in transparency. In fact the 2010 leaks revealed the obstacles to achievement of increased transparency, even in the digital age.

Read More...

A Great and Revolutionary Law? The First Four Years of India’s Right to Information Act

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
By Alasdair Roberts

India's 2005 Right to Information Act (RTIA) is among dozens of national laws recently adopted similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Drawing on several large studies examining the act's implementation, the author finds that Indian citizens filed about 2 million requests for information under the RTIA during its first two and half years. However, use of the law was constrained by uneven public awareness, poor public planning, and bureaucratic indifference or outright hostility. Requirements for proactive disclosure of information are often ignored. The necessary mechanisms for enforcing the new law are also strained by a growing number of complaints and appeals. Nonetheless, RTIA advocates demonstrate its transformative potential and continue to press energetically for more effective implementation. Public authorities and civil society organizations have developed a number of practical innovations that may be useful for other developing countries to adopt when considering similar laws.

Read More...

The US had a default crisis too, you know

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
By Alasdair Roberts

As the Eurozone contemplates the possibility of Greek default, American pundits are boasting about US federalism. American states, they say, would never allow the fiscal irresponsibility that plagues Eurozone countries. And when states do lapse, the country's leaders do a better job of putting accounts back in order. These pundits ought to know their history. In fact, the US has experienced a very similar crisis, in which one third of state governments defaulted. That crisis only ended after years of wrenching political change.

Read More...

The Rise and Fall of the Guardians

Monday, January 25th, 2010
By Alasdair Roberts

The recent financial crisis has battered the credibility of technocrats. It is no longer clear that, left to their own devices, they will produce the one thing that justifies giving them authority: better decisions.

Read More...

Right to Information: Need for an Enforcement Strategy

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
By Alasdair Roberts

The right to information is only meaningful if the law is properly enforced. We know this from common sense. Government officials who dislike the law will be tempted to ignore it if they believe that there will not be any consequences. Citizens will not make requests if they do not believe there is a quick remedy against stubborn bureaucrats. The findings of some recent evaluations of the Right to Information Act are therefore worrisome. The report completed by the RTI Assessment and Analysis Group finds that information commissions received 86,000 appeals in the first two and half years of the law's operation, but issued only 50,000 decisions. Inflow exceeds outflow, and the result is a growing inventory of cases within some commissions, and delays in handling individual investigations. The special committee that reported to the Fourth National Conference on RTI last October found a "huge pendency in disposal of appeals and complaints" in some places. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers study on RTIA said that rapid growth in number of appeals is "creating a grave situation which requires urgent intervention."

Read More...

The Dangers of Guardian Rule

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
By Alasdair Roberts

Economic liberalisation was supposed to bring with it democratisation and the will of the crowd. Instead we had monetary policy governed by an elite few in independent banks and powerful finance ministers such as Gordon Brown. What went wrong?

Read More...

» Show all posts

Triumph of the City: Ed Glaeser talks about his new book on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Gov. Deval Patrick speaking at the Rappaport Center's Gubernatorial Speakers Series
Arianna Huffington and Alan Khazei speaking at the Rappaport Center
U.S. Representative Barney Frank speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School, cosponsored by the Rappaport Institute.
Former Lt. Governor Kerry Healey speaks about political parity at the Rappaport Center
 MA Attorney General Martha Coakley Hearing on Sexual Exploitation Online
Mayor Menino attends Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Course for high school students
Statnet panel of current and former heads of local performance management programs including Stephanie Hirsch (far right), former head of SomerStat and Devin Lyons-Quirk, third from right.
HKS Professor Jeffrey Liebman (left) spoke about new ways to spur policy innovation at a State House briefing sponsored by State Representative (and former Rappaport Urban Scholar) Charles Murphy (right).

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