Mitchell A. Orenstein

Research Interests

Professor Mitchell A. Orenstein is a scholar of international politics focusing on the political economy of transition in Central and Eastern Europe, pension privatization worldwide, and the role of policy paradigms in economic reform.  His research lies at the intersection of comparative politics, international political economy, and global public policy, employing a problem-driven research approach based on asking big, policy-relevant questions and answering them through carefully designed, in-depth field research.

Major Publications

Orenstein’s first book, Out of the Red: Building Capitalism and Democracy in Postcommunist Europe (University of Michigan Press, 2001), won the 1997 Gabriel A. Almond Award of the American Political Science Association for the best dissertation in comparative politics.  This book compares strategies for economic reform adopted in the Czech Republic and Poland after 1989 and their political, economic, and distributional consequences.  It shows why democracies, under certain circumstances, can be more effective than dictatorships in economic policy making.

Privatizing Pensions: The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reform (Princeton University Press, 2008) won the 2009 Charles H. Levine Prize of the International Political Science Association for a book that “makes a contribution of considerable theoretical or practical significance in the field of public policy and administration, takes an explicitly comparative perspective, and is written in an accessible style.”  Privatizing Pensions demonstrates the impact of a coalition of transnational actors led by the World Bank on pension privatization worldwide.  This study shows that transnational actors can exert a powerful influence on domestic policy reform in democratic states despite lacking direct veto power, by influencing the ideas and policy preferences of domestic veto players.

Pensions, Social Security, and the Privatization of Risk (Columbia University Press, 2009) examines pension reform options for the United States under the Obama administration, drawing lessons from international experience.  Professor Orenstein continues to study the effect of transnational actors on policy-making in democratic states and is starting a new project on the crisis of free market capitalism.

Professor Orenstein has also published two books on European social policy with the World Bank.  Roma in an Expanding Europe: Breaking the Poverty Cycle, co-authored with Dena Ringold and Erika Wilkens, is a seminal study of Roma poverty, sociology, and public health.  It won the Voter’s Choice Award for the most innovative analytical and advisory activity and the World Bank Europe/Central Asia Knowledge Fair in 2004.  Pension Reform in Europe: Process and Progress, co-edited with Robert Holzmann and Michal Rutkowski, analyzes the political economy of pension reform throughout the European Union.


Professor Orenstein’s teaching encompasses the fields of comparative politics, European studies, and international political economy.  Prior to coming to Northeastern University he taught a course on Comparative National Systems, providing a general framework for comparative policy analysis.  He also taught a course on the Political Economy of Transition in Central and Eastern Europe, which prepared students for a student-organized research trip to Central and Eastern Europe during a January intersession, supported by a grant from the European Union through the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University and the Hirsch endowment.  He also has taught courses titled “Free Market in Crisis”, “Varieties of Capitalism”, and “International Political Economy”.


Prior to joining Northeastern University as the Chair of the Department of Political Science, Professor Orenstein was a faculty member and Senior Fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis at Johns Hopkins University from 2007-2009. Orenstein also has held appointments at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Syracuse, and Moscow State Universities.  Orenstein’s research has been recognized with fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  He has consulted for the World Bank, USAID, the government of Slovakia, and other organizations.  Professor Orenstein has lived for several years in Europe – in Britain, France, Czech Republic, Poland, and Russia.  His hobbies include travel, piano, and coaching baseball.  He is married with three children.