Abstract: Retreat to the Suburbs: The Regulatory State and Land Use in the 1970s

Aaron Cavin


In the flourishing popular support for deregulation in finance, energy, transportation, communications, and other domains, scholars have seen a sea change in American politics: the rejection of New Deal liberalism and an embrace of "free market fundamentalism" that has marked the post-New Deal era, an embrace symbolized by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Yet, while the deregulatory fervor swept the country, local governments enacted increased regulations over land use. What does it mean that even the most enthusiastic supporters of free market regulation nevertheless insisted on increased regulation in their own neighborhoods? I situate the proliferation of land use regulations in the context of American political history, exploring how the regulatory state's retreat to the suburbs urges a reconsideration of the standard narratives of the rise of conservatism, the collapse of the New Deal order, and shifts in economic citizenship.