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Steven Teles

Steven Teles

Political Science
Johns Hopkins University
Fellow, 2021-22

Steven Teles will spend his time at CASBS working on a new book on the changing political economy of conservative parties in the U.S. and UK. He will focus on how changing perceptions of who parties’ voters are, combined with a shift in the cultural character of business, has provided an opportunity for a shift in the economic positions of the Tory and Republican parties. In both countries, this shift has largely occurred outside the mainstream economics profession, and can be understood as a “Abbottian” challenge to the jurisdiction of the discipline. However, the Tories have more thoroughly shifted their positions – in particular on industrial policy, regional inequality and austerity – than have the Republicans. His suspicion is that this has been driven by the greater ability of leaders in the UK to change their party’s positions, which is both a function of political institutions and the role of coalition groups in the two parties.

Teles’ past work has had two key themes. The first is an attempt to understand the role of ideas and intellectuals in politics and public policy. This theme started with his book Whose Welfare: AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), published in 1996, which argued that the stalemate on the issue from the 60s until the 90s was driven by cultural and political polarization that made it hard to implement changes consistent with public preferences. His next book, 2008’s The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement (Princeton University Press), examined the strategies that conservatives brought to the challenge of competing with embedded legal liberalism. Along with David Dagan, his 2016 book Prison Break (Oxford University Press) looked at how conservatives had shifted positions on criminal justice, as a prism into the question of how individuals and movements change their minds. And finally, in 2020 (along with Rob Saldin) he published Never Trump (Oxford University Press), an examination of the Republicans who refused to support candidate and then president Trump.

The other major theme of his work has been a rethinking of liberal principles as applied to public policy and political economy. This work has mainly been pursued in a variety of essays, such as 2013’s “Kludgeocracy in America” and his book (with Brink Lindsey), The Captured Economy (Oxford University Press, 2017). He has also advanced this agenda through his affiliation with the Niskanen Center, where he has been a senior fellow since 2017.

Teles is professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, and he received his PhD in 1995 from the University of Virginia.