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Persistent Leadership: Presidents and the Evolution of U.S. Financial Reform, 1970-2007


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I gratefully acknowledge comments and suggestions from Garrett Glasgow, M. Stephen Weatherford, Jane Rudolph, and Paul Quirk.

John T. Woolley is professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the codirector of the American Presidency Project, and his recent work examines financial regulation, monetary politics, and presidential behavior in historical context.


Between 1970 and 2007, presidents of both parties consistently and actively supported financial deregulation. Given the low visibility and relatively technical nature of the issues, presidents saw deregulation as the best way to respond to technical innovation in the industry and disruptions caused by inflation. This history suggests several lessons for students of the role of presidents in policy making. Presidents can be active in promoting policy reform even though standard methods for defining the presidential agenda do not reveal this fact. We see presidential engagement reflected in White House statements both before and after legislation is passed, and in White House use of study reports and messages to shape an elite consensus.