The Tobin Project established its Government & Markets research initiative in 2007, at a time when the need for better economic regulation was not a focus of public debate. Conventional wisdom held that what markets needed was not better regulation, but simply less of it. The Tobin Project’s research effort began with several working groups focused on topics such as “Risk,” “Macroeconomics,” and “Retirement,” all of which examined how governments can create conditions for healthy, efficient, and safe markets.

Building on this early work, the Tobin Project held its first large conference on Government & Markets in 2008, convening over 50 scholars and policymakers to discuss ways of moving beyond the failings in contemporary regulation theory and toward better modes of economic regulation in an age of rapid technological change and changing economic relations. This initial meeting yielded the Tobin Project’s first edited volume, Government and Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation (Cambridge University Press, 2010), and the shorter, more policy-focused, New Perspectives on Regulation (The Tobin Project, 2009). In April 2009, the Tobin Project held a second conference on Government & Markets, convening many of the same people as well as new thinkers and participants and using the financial crisis as a lens for evaluating new approaches to regulation and reform. This meeting surfaced important ideas and questions about the crisis, its roots and potential solutions, which continued to drive the Government & Markets initiative forward.

In 2009 and 2010, the financial regulatory reform process provided an opportunity for Tobin scholars to share expertise with policymakers in the Senate, House, and Administration, and to hear a common refrain: How can we design new agencies and regulation that will be least vulnerable to regulatory capture? In an effort to advance understanding on the subject, the Tobin Project launched a new effort on Preventing Regulatory Capture in 2010, asking how regulation might be optimized to solve social problems without falling prey to industry capture. In 2014, this initiative produced an academic volume of new research, edited by Daniel Carpenter (Harvard University, Government) and David Moss (Harvard Business School), entitled Preventing Capture: Special Interest Influence in Regulation, and How to Limit It.   

In tandem with our work on regulatory capture, the Tobin Project has been supporting two working groups focused on related inquiries: Behavioral and Institutional Regulation and Rethinking Regulation. The Behavioral and Institutional Regulation working group, co-chaired by Tobin scholars Annelise Riles (Cornell University, Law and Anthropology) and Tom Baker (University of Pennsylvania Law School), examined how new perspectives from both experimental work and close observation add to understanding of how institutions operate to make markets work better. The Rethinking Regulation working group, based at Duke University's Kenan Institute for Ethics and formerly chaired by Ed Balleisen (Duke University, History), brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars with policymakers and practitioners to develop research on new ways of imagining and structuring regulation.