Conference Panel 3: Financial Literacies and Scholarly Knowledge

(by Caroline Schuster, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University of Chicago)
Lynn Stout (Marc and Beth Goldberg Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Cornell University):
Prof. Stout begins with the provocation that business management theory originated a disturbing and dangerous idea in the 1970s: an organization must have a single objective in order to make rational decisions. Prof. Stout makes the observation that humans, or course, do not have a single objective when they undertake most decisions—viz., eating lunch can fulfill all sorts of different criteria, which means our plurality of rationales for undertaking a task co-mingle and co-exist in our daily experiences. In what sense, however, might this management theory be dangerous? The idea that corporations have a single objective—maximizing shareholder value—papers over a reality of many different shareholder objectives. Indeed, the mantra of shareholder value is a fiction since shareholders have values. To illustrate the dangers of homogenizing shareholders and prioritizing a single value—profits—Prof. Stout offers several instances where we can see conflicts between one set of shareholders and another. (1) Shareholders are invested in a company over different time horizons, and thus have different priorities around when/over what duration their value will be maximized. (2) Diversified and non-diversified investors care differently about whether their decisions will impact other sectors of the economy. Finally, (3) most people are social and care about others while some people really do want short term value at all cost. The problem, then, is that the concept of shareholder value reduces people to the lowest common denominator, where the most a-social or anti-social segments of the group drive decisions.
Randy Martin (Chair, Art & Public Policy, New York University, Tisch School for the Arts):
Prof. Martin calls for us to imagine a space for critical finance, and especially to go beyond common tropes of critique and crisis to get to their shared etymology: a point of decision rather than an apocalyptic paralysis. This new era of financialization points to new forms of socialization of capital and labor, which may generate a new social surplus. To social surplus, Prof. Martin adds the concept of social excess, especially the observation that with the logics and models that we generate through securitization and financializaton, we lose sight of the fact that uncertainty is something that we generate. In this epistemological moment, processes of calculation, the proliferation of number, &c. work to unwind the economy as a totality separate from politics. Indeed, is there “an economy” any more? The re-orientation and disruption of our epistemologies of calculation can best be illustrated by the central importance of ‘the outlier’ at this particular historical conjuncture. We can see this everywhere in our obsession with stars and reality television. Finally, in keeping with the theme of the panel—knowledge and expertise—Prof. Martin calls for a critical engagement with the confluence of debt, credentialing, and the contemporary academy. At graduation, Martin notes, we used to get a credential, and now we get student debt. In this moment, you can’t get a job if you don’t go to school, but if you go to school you can’t ever retire. This should lead all of us to have a double major in the academy: our research specialization and a specialization in student activism.
Robert Meister (Professor of Social Sciences & Political Thought, University of California, Santa Cruz):
Prof. Robert Meister uses an analysis of the classic distinction between assets and commodities as a platform to open up new horizons for social and political mobilization in an era of fiancializaiton.  The distinction between assets and commodities opens up two agendas for future inquiry: (1) these economic phenomena as objects of knowledge and (2) as sites of struggle. The crux of the distinction emerges in Volume III of Marx’s Capital, where Marx considers how to price the right to make a profit. By volume three, the distinction between the logic of the commodity and of finance is reduced to the law of one price. After considering the politics of Marx’s conclusion—especially the permanent surplus population—Prof. Meister offers the provocation: “What do we do now that we know?” That question, and its many attendant questions (“Do we have the nerve to create subjects who wish to hasten change and the end of capitalism, rather than turn back?”). Meister leaves us with the agenda of the remainder of the conference, namely, to ask what type of subjects do we produce in the moment of finance under a logic of non-arbitrage, and what action do we take?

Conference Opening Remarks: Arjun Appadurai (NYU)

Opening remarks from Dr. Arjun Appadurai (Godard Professor of Media, Culture & Communication, New York University)

Why does there appear to be no one to blame for the ongoing destruction of the economy, society and environment? The government, banks, experts, and regulators have all claimed innocence, while taxpayers have had to speculate on their futures. It is time to point the finger: it is the discipline of economics that has brought about this state of affairs. From business to the media to academia, economists now run the world.

People have become “business junkies.” In the 1960s business news was a specialized section. However, over the past four decades, it has become hegemonic and we are regularly assaulted by business news everywhere. In the past, the business of America was business; now the business of American life is business. We have become identified as investors and homeowners, not mothers, fathers or neighbors. Citizenship is defined by business. As business junkies, we have been like sheep being taken to slaughter by Wall Street, and it is time for a bleat or two.

As scholars, we must force ourselves to think differently about the world. Business not only saturates our world, it undergirds social life. We have to create the scaffolding of a dialogue between economists and other social sciences. In the Weberian spirit, we must develop a general theory of calculative action. Economists must bring culture and history back into its study, while anthropologists must take into account has institutions, organizations and leaders lead an ethical life. Following Weber, we have to examine the ethical calculations with constantly changing cultural understanding. With calculative action, we have to return to the spirit of capitalism to understand what enabled the beginnings of modern capitalism. The limitation in adopting Weber as part of the toolkit is his argument that we forget beyond one ethical moment.

While there is an overwhelming focus on risk in contemporary society, there is a need to look more closely at why the idea of risk has pushed out the concept of uncertainty out. Weber had emphasized the condition of uncertainty in Protestant life. We need to examine what the bigger idea of uncertainty is that contributes to the idea of risk.

Weber’s comparative histories of capitalism was really a comparative history of a non-event. Why did capitalism not take root in certain places? For Weber, magic was the main obstacle to the birth of capitalism in many contexts. Magic, or the irrational reliance on technical processes to address perceived injustice, was the main obstacle to capitalism. Yet today, it is possible to identify magical procedures at the core of capitalism: a transcendental faith in markets. Consider George W. Bush’s plea for a “faith-based economy.” Just have faith and keep shopping. This is a reversal of the Weberian logic.

Yet this opens up a number of topics of inquiry. What are the techniques of calculation from the perspective of ethics and ethos? What is the relation between an ethics of probability and an ethics of possibility? We can move toward a new form of social inquiry that looks at the relationship between quantity, quality and personhood. This is a different theory of social action that moves away from rational choice.

The worldwide Occupy movement is a harbinger of major changes, even if it takes some decades to realize this change. The goal for us is to “Occupy Economics.” We can find allies in the discipline who have elected to join for change. We have to redefine its means and methods to change social science.

Conference Panel 1: Money and Banking


Prabhat Patnaik, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Michael McDonald, Department of Political Science, Williams College

William Cohan, Journalist and Author of House of Cards: A tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

Prahbat Patnaik

For Patnaik, the “subprime crisis” is a manifestation of deeper crisis tendencies embedded in the structural dynamics of capitalism.  In Patnaik’s account, the crisis of today’s financial capitalism is that it lacks a long-term exogenous force to fuel secular expansionary trends. With the colonial system no longer operating (the way it once did) and states politically constrained in their ability to engage in demand management, the capitalist system finds itself locked in a zero-growth limit-cycle.  Today the global economy lurches from bubble to bubble, dependent on irrational exuberance to compensate for the stimulus once provided by exogenous forces.

At the core of Patnaik’s diagnosis of the current crisis is the tension between money as a medium of circulation and money as a store of wealth. While wealth is held in the form claims (money and financial assets) to physical assets whose prices can move independently of the value of their underlying assets, capitalism, as a demand constrained system, must hold the value of money vis-à-vis other commodities constant in order to avoid realization problems.  The result is a contradictory impulse to increase the value of claims while suppressing the inflation of money wages.  The negotiation of this tension for Patnaik is central to the history of capitalism and gives form to several features of capitalist economies that he draws out in his talk.

One of the features identified by Patnaik is the tendency toward the formation of bubbles.  Patnaik points out that bubbles are a logical consequence of the growing volatility of financial assets relative to the stickiness of their underlying physical assets. Because the value of physical assets is constrained by the stickiness of wages, and financial assets less so, there is the potential for bubbles to form when the growth of money wages does not keep pace with the exuberance of financial markets. In fact, Patnaik’s short-hand definition of a bubble is a “boom without a change in money wages.” Again, for Patnaik this tendency toward bubbles is inherent in the money form, but amplified by the current ascendancy of financial markets.

Patnaik’s contention that the growth of capitalist economies depends on exogenous sources of stimulus is most closely related to his comments on the Schumpeterian notion that growth depends on gales of creative destruction, and cycles of boom and bust.  Patnaik argues that the net-positive result of this boom-bust cycle is based on the assumption of full employment.  Once this assumption is given up, however, there is no reason to believe that rising labor productivity will lead to growth. The fact that there clearly is growth in capitalism, for Patnaik, necessarily implies the existence of some external source of stimulus capable of breaking capitalist economies out of their limit cycles. To sustain secular growth trends the capitalist system must constantly devise, and divine new ways to reproduce the effect of exogenous stimulus. This is a challenge that remains unmet in the current conjuncture.

Michael McDonald

McDonald approached the themes of finance, crisis and intervention through an examination of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and A Monetary History of the United States (1971). According to McDonald, a close reading of these books reveals that Friedman was not the free market fundamentalist he claimed to be.  What they show is that Friedman was more an advocate for the supremacy of finance than he was a believer in a night-watchmen state.  Friedman’s libertarian ideology, in McDonald’s account, was a façade that concealed his support for state intervention in the service of financial markets.

In Monetary History, Friedman claims to provide proof that the Federal Reserve was responsible for the Great Depression by failing to adequately expand the money supply. But that’s not what the book actually argues. According to McDonald, Friedman believed the Depression was almost singularly about the collapse of the banks. Protecting the solvency of the banking system was priority number one for Friedman even if the actions required to do so meant that employment and growth would remain depressed. The way out of the Depression for Friedman was to bid up treasury instruments owned by banks.  This endorsement of intervention to inflate the value of financial assets, for McDonald, obliterates the idea that Friedman was a market fundamentalist, and shows that his demonization of inflation was particular to goods and wages.

Because Monetary History fails to think through the connections between the state and finance, Friedman avoids directly confronting the ways in which financial markets depend on the state.  Here McDonald’s analysis complements Patnaik’s by showing that even Friedman tacitly admits financial markets require external props to keep them growing.

McDonald’s analysis does more than reveal the contradictions and double standards that stem from Friedman’s commitment to the supremacy of finance.  McDonald also describes how Friedman manages to blame the failures of finance on the state, while at the same time prescribing state action to resolve crises of insolvency. Though Friedman’s libertarianism may be a façade, it still does important ideological work by distributing blame and responsibility to the state. In Friedman’s account finance depends on the state, yet the state is also to blame and is denied credit when it comes to the rescue.

While Friedman prescribes technocratic solutions to financial crisis administered by the undemocratic Fed, he claims in Capitalism and Freedom to be a critic of  “government” and a supporter of democratic institutions. Again, Friedman’s implicit support for a sort of technocratic sovereignty – on display today around the world today in various guises — reveals his true stripes.

Friedman’s tacit support of intervention in the service of finance’s supremacy, and scapegoating of the state, whilst relying on technocratic state institutions to enact policy, expose the contradictions of his analysis and belie his reputation as a libertarian.

William Cohan

The main question that Cohan set out answer was “why have there been so many financial crises in the last 25 years?” Cohan provides two distinct crisis theories in his talk. The first is that the crises of the past two decades are in large part products of perverse incentives.  The second is a sort of product-life-cycle theory in which the final stage in the life of a popular financial innovation is crisis.

For Cohan the conversion of Wall Street investment banks from private partnerships to public companies beginning in the early 1970s created a culture on Wall Street in which people were “rewarded for taking big risks with other peoples money.” Not surprising, these perverse incentives encouraged unsound behavior in which crises were inevitable.

Opposing “partnership culture” with “public culture”, Cohan explained that in a partnership, firm partners have their own net worth on the line, and accordingly have strong personal incentives to be diligent in the management of risk.  Going public, in Cohan’s words, “destroys” the incentive for prudence, and “bonus culture” replaces risk management.

The shift from a relatively large number of poorly capitalized private partnerships to a relatively small number of very well capitalized public companies has transformed Wall Street into a cartel “run for the benefit of the people that work there.”

Cohan’s depiction of financial crisis as a massive principle-agent problem runs the risk of reducing a diverse set of practices and processes to a matter of getting the incentives right. There appears to be little room in Cohan’s account for the structural dynamics highlighted by Patnaik, for instance.

Toward the end of his talk, Cohan did suggest a less incentive oriented theory of crisis.  In this alternative theory, crisis is linked to innovation, but not in a Schumpeterian way. In Cohan’s account, the relation between crisis and innovation is zero-sum. It is a relationship in which a good idea is first mimicked and then reengineered into a platform for speculation before ending its product life-cycle in a bubble.

Appadurai on “Business Junkies”

Felix Salmon from Reuters quotes Appadurai from The Occupy Handbook

Occupy defined-benefit pension funds!

April 19, 2012 @ 3:32 am | By Felix Salmon

I’m working my way through The Occupy Handbook [1], your excellent one-stop shop for analysis of the financial crisis and everything about it. A lot of really big names have pieces here: among the authors you’ll find Michael Lewis, Paul Krugman, Gillian Tett, John Cassidy, Raghuram Rajan, Bethany McLean, Daron Acemoglu, Carmen Reinhart, David Graeber, Nouriel Roubini, Pankaj Mishra, Ariel Dorfman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Peter Diamond, Brad DeLong, Martin Wolf, Scott Turow, Robert Reich, David Cay Johnston, Eliot Spitzer, Lawrence Weschler, Tyler Cowen, Jeff Madrick, Dan Gross, Jeff Sachs, and even Paul Volcker. (Full disclosure: I’m in there too.)

One author who might not be familiar to a financial audience is Arjun Appadurai, who has an excellent short chapter entitled “A Nation of Business Junkies”.
“Business news was a specialized affair in the late 1960s,” he writes. “Now it is hard to find anything but business as the topic of news in all media.”

He explains:

Look at the serious talk shows, and chances are that you will find a CEO describing what’s good about his company, what’s bad about the government, and how to read his company’s stock prices…

Turn to the newspapers and things get worse. Any reader of the New York Times will find it hard to get away from the business machine. Start with the lead section, and stories about Obama’s economic plans, mad Republican proposals about taxes, the euro crisis, and the latest bank scandal will assault you… Turn to the sports section: it is littered with talk of franchises, salaries, trades, owner antics, stadium projects, and more. I need hardly say anything about the Business section itself, which has now become virtually redundant…

Go through the magazines when you take a flight to Detroit or Mumbai, and there is again a feast of news geared to the “business traveler”. This is when I catch up on how to negotiate the best deal, why this is the time to buy gold, and what software and hardware to use when I make my next presentation to General Electric.

I thought of Appadurai’s chapter earlier today when I was talking to a fund manager at a conference in DC. He was talking about the move from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pension plans, and was bemoaning the fact that people who invest in defined-contribution plans have seen returns not only below the returns in the stock market or the bond market, but even below the level of inflation. The solution, he said, was more education: we had to teach people about the power of diversification, the intelligence of passive investing, and so on and so forth.

My feeling was that such attempts would never work. The investment returns of people with defined-contribution pensions are woefully low — much lower than the returns seen by the managers of defined-benefit schemes. And the difference, to a first approximation, is rents being extracted by the financial-services industry. That’s the industry which does all of the educating: so it’s unrealistic to assume that it’s going to educate people and thereby reduce its own income.

Besides, as Appadurai says, the US population has never been more educated about matters financial than it is now. We can try to improve the level of education even further. But a little financial education can be a dangerous thing, if it instils overconfidence. And what’s more, there’s zero empirical evidence that educated investors have higher realized returns. Besides, you can’t hope to effectively educateeverybody.

Much better, I think, to allow people to invest alongside the defined-benefit scheme of their employer, and accept the returns of that scheme. Most employers still have some kind of legacy defined-benefit scheme, and those schemes, as a rule, tend to be invested pretty sensibly. Those pension funds should accept defined-contribution money alongside their defined-benefit money: it would beef up their AUM and thereby their negotiating power, while at the same time delivering higher returns to the company’s employees.

Some employees, of course, will think that they are very clever and will be able to get large returns for themselves. But most of us aren’t that hubristic, and consider asset-allocation decisions and the like to be something of a chore. Give us the opportunity to outsource those decisions to somebody acting on our behalf, and we’ll jump at it. We might not get the same implied returns as the lucky people on defined-benefit plans. But at least we’ll have our money professionally managed, at little or no cost.

Conference Closing Remarks: Robert Meister (UCSC)

Closing remarks by Dr. Robert Meister (Professor of Social Sciences & Political Thought, University of California, Santa Cruz; Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism)

This conference has been the interaction between Rethinking Capitalism and Cultures of Finance. It is perhaps the differences in perspective between Marx and Weber. It has addressed the differences between eras of capitalism, and as capitalism has rethought itself.

Capitalism has shifted from emphasis on commodities, to assets and now to the direct production of prices. As Emanuel Derman has shown, the technologies of finance aim to know the price of something relative to other things. We have to think of things as assets because, as Randy Martin observes, we are uncertain. What is the role of state intervention, and of social and political struggle in such a context? There is always the danger that struggles are just a bet on an uncertain future. Capitalism has rethought itself by confessing to its own uncertainty of the future. Now we engage the future through relative values.

As the financial sector becomes the site of political struggle, no we now have capitalism? The financial sector has become the center at which everything is priced and sold. Cultures of finance have become a way of rethinking capitalism.

Arjun Appadurai has talked about risk pushing uncertainty out. Risk is whether people can pay back debt; uncertainty is whether they will. For justice to be on the horizon, we must attend to these notions of risk and uncertainty, and as Dr. Appadurai has suggested, to “Occupy Economics.”

Prabhat Patnaik has told us that capitalism can only produce growth by bubbles, based on standard economic theory and on the idea that inflation is good. Michael MacDonald has argued that taxpayers and the Federal government subsidize Wall Street. The free market is based on the government’s involvement. There is hypocrisy, as Bethany McLean observes, whereby financial capitalists are usually part-time capitalists. Has finance captured politics?

What we are talking about here is a critical finance theory, which is a theory of value, as Randy Martin and Caitlin Zaloom have explained. Lynn Stout has argued that people are mostly altruistic, and not solely driven by an economic pursuit. Whether saintly or paranoid, these views of the world are projections and introjections. The opposite of the invisible hand would be the evil eye; the idea that others would envy me, and that envy could destroy me. These are questions of what myself is to others, and what others are to me.

The materialist approach can examine the transmission of affect in the process of engineering financial products. We have to develop a critical theory of modeling that investigates how affect is stripped off to produce financial products, and what we should do with this. How should we feel?

We can reduce unemployment with another bubble by guaranteeing the profitability of banks, and through austerity programs. This election is a choice between someone who accepts efficient markets hypothesis and someone who follows the behavioral finance model. They are both governed by prices, and the difference is two floors of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. That is the choice after the Occupy movement.

What should we do? We now have a critical account of the political reality of finance. How should we feel, now that we know? Capitalism has confessed to its sins, and it has converted us to prolong it.

Cultures of Finance and Rethinking Capitalism have come together to jointly imagine capitalism as something that can end. There is irony. Capitalism is sustained by finance, but it is now subject to the volatility of finance. We can live with cruel optimism, what Lauren Berlant argues is the debilitating belief that things will get better; it is postponing an inevitable decline. Or, we can put justice back on our collective horizon. We must depocalypticize justice and repoliticize the possibility of future justice. What attitude should we take, now that we know?

Thursday Opening Remarks: Craig Calhoun (SSRC, NYU)

Opening remarks from Dr. Craig Calhoun (President, Social Science Research Council; University Professor of Social Science, New York University). Additional Remarks by Dr. Robert Meister (Social Sciences and Political Thought, UC Santa Cruz) and Dr. Benjamin Lee (Anthropology and Philosophy, New School for Social Research)

Why does financialization matter? Markets always have some element of credit, but capitalism was once about accumulating material rather than financial assets. In the past four decades, the circulation of finance capital has been ascendant in an unprecedented manner, as the production of tangible commodities in developed markets has diminished. We’re in an “era,” but there’s a tendency to underestimate what is new: contemporary phenomena are often simply folded into some “fundamental nature” of markets or capitalism.

The “irrational” bubbles of today’s financialization have historic precedents: bubbles and similarly “irrationally exuberant” phases have allowed for the financing of industries and historic phases (such as the 17th century rise of financial markets in London and Amsterdam, the financing of wars tied up with statebuilding projects, financing for imperialism).

Prominent features of the financialization from the 1970s onwards include scale, as the world’s wealth comes to be held as financial assets; new instruments and technologies enabling new trading forms; legal transformations as new instruments require creation of new contracts; price increases in assets tradable on global markets and ensuing massive leveraging.

To what extent does “imagined” phenomena come to be seen as real? There has been “a shift in the market imaginary itself” as finance capital has come to be understood as a “mover of markets” rather than a risk to it. Other re-imaginations have revolved around who or what constitutes market actors, the relationships between these actors, and notions of efficiency and inequality. In the midst of this, social scientists and economists have lost sight of connections between the economy, culture, politics, the state, and civil society. The economy has come to be seen as a metric through which other phenomena can be evaluated. As academic knowledge, for example, is transformed into an asset (e.g through proprietary knowledge and intellectual property), evaluations of performance and value have come to be priced accordingly. For public universities, the preferred criteria for knowledge-as-financial-asset has become how knowledge “pays off” in the short term. And yet, political phenomena cannot be separated out in explaining the rise of modern financialization; the politically unpopular Vietnam War, for example, was eventually financed exclusively by credit.

Question, Dr. Meister: Are we nostalgic for a “real” capitalism? Has financialization-as-totality subjugated (or subjectivated) agents who could change it? If “financialization” is a shift in perspective, whereby the “real economy” is now seen as part of asset markets, has economics been reduced to the non-arbitrage principle? Is arbitrage now the “grave-digger” of markets? Is there a different form of totalization happening around the asset form?

A: Financialization is part of a profit strategy to ensure the exclusion of certain parts of the world. The political sociology of resistance is shifting away from community aspirations to liberal freedoms and the influence of consumer identities. Presenting finance capitalism as a “problem” for confrontation can engender a return to movements. Considering totalities calls for skepticism thinking about the world in particular ways does not necessarily manifest into realities: for example, the question about arbitrage conflicts with the actual operations of traders.

Question, Dr. Lee: As the “best and the brightest” go into finance, those excluded from that sphere become politically disenfranchised. How should we understand this alongside the end of a sense of “interchangeability” in compensation for a “professional class,” and the astronomical rise of compensation in finance and investment banking?

A: Emphases on separate academic disciplines and publishing pressures—engendered by market pressures—have helped break up the solidarity of the profession. Unequal compensation has increased across and well as within professions. Is there enough worker motivation to shift blocked aspirations into movements?

Other questions: If there is disintermediation between the political and the economic, what’s the distinction between public and private goods, and public and private spheres? What is the link between financialization and high levels of debt to GDP? How should we understand high executive bonuses in relation to the paradigm of shareholder value maximization? Perhaps nostalgia exists for the time when surplus extraction from populations was more straightforward and occurred at the general site of production—how is class folded into financialization?

A: The wholesale valorization of the “private” as good, free, autonomous, and the “public” as bureaucratic and subject to domination by others is reconfiguring notions of exposure and protection. States are using debt to avoid dissent. Executive compensation reflects a failure of governance and the reduction of corporate value to its market price. The 19th century to the 1970s embodies a long process of working classes bargaining within capitalism. While capitalism has always produced inequity, industrialization and democratization of wealthier societies created political leverage for class struggles. Capitalism has successfully incorporated the working class, such that class structure has become tied to reformism, rather than radicalism.

Rethinking Capitalism Newsletter | Special Volume on Futures of Finance Conference

Special Volume on the Futures of Finance Conference (Download)

Featuring contributions from Arjun Appadurai, Ben Lee & Ed LiPuma, Robert Meister, Timothy Mitchell, Craig Calhoun, Randy Martin, Prabhat Patnaik, Bridget Kustin, and Robert Wosnitzer

Edited by Peter Dimock & Samuel Carter


The Futures of Finance Conference | April 12 – 14

Futures of Finance

April 13th, 9:00AM – 6:00PM

20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor (Journalism Department)

full details:


Twitter: #rethinkingcapitalism

The Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU and the Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism at UCSC are collaborating to organize a public discussion on the Futures of Finance. Join us for a day-long conversation with financial practitioners, journalists, and policy makers, and scholars of finance and financial cultures.

Futures of Finance will feature panel discussions centered on four broad areas:  1) Money and Banking, 2) Financial Cultures 3) Financial Literacies and Scholarly Knowledge, and 4) Financial Practices and Interpretations.



9:00 AM Opening Remarks

Arjun Appadurai, Godard Professor of Media, Culture & Communication, New York University

9:30 AM Panel Discussion: Money & Banking

Prabhat Patnaik, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Michael MacDonald, Frederick L. Schuman Professor of International Relations, Williams College

William Cohan, Journalist and Author, Fortune, Vanity Fair, and author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World and House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street

Moderated by Bridget Kustin, Johns Hopkins University

11:15 AM Panel Discussion: Financial Cultures

Caitlin Zaloom, Associate Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University

Bethany MacLean, Journalist for Vanity Fair and co-author of All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of Financial Crisis (with Joe Nocera) and The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron  (with Peter Elkind)

Stephen Bruce, Founder, Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism

Moderated by Robert Wosnitzer, New York University

1:30 PM Panel Discussion: Financial Literacies and Scholarly Knowledge

Randy Martin, Chair, Art & Public Policy, New York University, Tisch School for the Arts

Bob Meister, Professor of Social Sciences & Political Thought, University of California, Santa Cruz

Lynn Stout, Paul Hastings Professor of Corporate & Securities Law, University of California, Los Angeles

Moderated by JanaLee Cherneski, Oxford University

3:15 PM Panel Discussion: Financial Practices & Interpretations

Benjamin Lee, University Professor of Anthropology & Philosophy, New School University

Emanuel Derman, Professor of Professional Practice, Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, Columbia University, author of My Life as a Quant and Models.Behaving.Badly

Michael Laskawy, Visiting Scholar, NYU Rudin Cente; recently Senior Economic Advisor to Senator Charles Schumer and Director of the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee

Moderated by Benjamin Lozano, University of California, Santa Cruz

5:00PM Closing Remarks: 

Robert Meister, Professor of Social Sciences & Political Thought, University of California, Santa Cruz


How is the knowledge about finance that is being produced in so many locations and across so many disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities within the academy related to finance as the assemblage of technical operations, practices, and regulative constraints by which contemporary competitive global capitalism now operates?

How, in other words, are the financial techniques behind the increasing financialization of everyday life related to professional, public, and private narratives of social relations?

Could an interdisciplinary conference with participants from inside the practical world of finance and its regulation and from the worlds of social scientific analysis and cultural critique create the foundation for an ongoing conversation and social network dedicated to bringing wide public attention to the need for new modes of public awareness, regulation, and intervention through which contemporary finance and the general interest can be mutually articulated?

To many of us, how the question of the possible futures of finance is framed seems an urgent matter.  A conference dedicated to laying the groundwork for a network of financial practitioners, regulators, financial journalists, and established and younger scholars dedicated to a public conversation in which the future of finance is framed as one, simultaneously, of regulatory practice, specialized (even arcane) technical knowledge, and the social narration of everyday life, we believe, will make an important contribution in the collective creation of that future.

It now seems an opportune moment to create a network of practitioners, media commentators, established scholars, younger scholars, and graduate students to create a public conversation concerning how finance, conceived as technical economic practice, and finance, narrated as a logic of social relations, can be brought together in the contemporary pursuit of the public good “undertaken without nostalgia.”

Already at several sites around the world, including Copenhagen, Berlin, Tokyo, Brooklyn, and Nolita, we are beginning to see emergent forms of “indie-capitalism” that depart from the norms and assumptions underlying traditional “high finance” including such core concepts as “scalability” and “sustainability.”  To construct an authoritative interpretive community within which to understand and debate the implications and opportunities such developments represent is a crucially important task.Image

Rethinking Capitalism Conference Schedule | Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism

Rethinking Capitalism Conference | April 7-10 | UC Santa Cruz | Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism

Check the website at Rethinking Capitalism for a webcast of the conference….

APRIL 7-9, 2011 The second Rethinking Capitalism Conference is scheduled for April 7, 8, and 9 at UC Santa Cruz.  The collapse of capital markets in 2008 has produced a literature that describes the financial apocalypse we almost had. This new, more realistic, view of capitalism stresses its dependence on taxpayer subsidy and government regulation and the imperative of preserving it as something less than a market utopia. This conference will explore the difference and relation between confessing the fragility of capitalism and formulating a critique. Each panel brings theories of economic value and regulation into conversation with the study of culture, institutions, ethics, history, geography and theology. Their overall focus will be on the large role  of financial products, especially options, in the development of global capitalism and the ways which questions of how to manage uncertainty about the future must be supplemented by political questions about the direction and sustainability of capitalism itself.

Conference Schedule

Thursday, 07 April

5:30 PM Welcome
George Blumenthal, Chancellor, UC Santa Cruz

5:40 PM Framing the Crisis: Policy and Theory
Stephen Bruce, The Bruce Trust
Horace Brock, President, Strategic Economic Decisions
Robert Meister, Political Thought, UC Santa Cruz

7:00 PM Break

7:15 PM Keynote Panel: Telling the Story of 2008: Realistic, Utopian and Apocalyptic Narratives of What Could Have Happened
Kim Stanley Robinson, Science fiction author known for his Mars trilogy
Lynn Stout, Corporate and Securities Law, University of California Los Angeles
Graham Ward, Contextual Theology and Ethics, University of Manchester

Discussant: Andrew Barry, School of Geography, University of Oxford
Discussant: Dick Bryan, Political Economy, University of Sydney

9:15 PM Reception

Friday, April 8, 2011  |  Colleges 9/10 Multi-Purpose Room

8:00 AM Registration & Light Breakfast

8:50 AM Welcome
Sheldon Kamieniecki, Dean of Social Sciences, UC Santa Cruz

9:00 AM PANEL 1: Valuation, Measurement and Knowledge
Dick Bryan, Political Economy, University of Sydney
Karin Knorr Cetina, Sociology, University of Constance, Germany
Paolo Quattrone, Accounting, IE Business School
Shyam Sunder, Accounting, Economics and Finance, Yale University

11:00 AM Break

11:15 AM PANEL 2: Market Institutions, Government and Crisis
Andrew Barry, School of Geography, University of Oxford
Karen Ho, Anthropology, University of Minnesota
Nelson Lichtenstein, History, University of California Santa Barbara
Michael MacDonald, Political Science, Williams College

1:15 PM Lunch

2:00 PM ROUND TABLE 1: Eschatology, Visualization and Scenario Planning
Andrew Barry, School of Geography, University of Oxford
Karin Knorr Cetina, Sociology, University of Constance, Germany
Daniel Friedman, Economics, UC Santa Cruz
Dai Jinhua, Comparative Literature and Culture, Beijing University, Resident Fellow Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley
Andrew Mathews, Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz
Darel Paul, Political Science, Williams College
Paolo Quattrone, Accounting, IE Business School
Kim Stanley Robinson, Science fiction author known for his Mars trilogy
Shyam Sunder, Accounting, Economics and Finance, Yale University
Graham Ward, Contextual Theology and Ethics, University of Manchester

Saturday, April 9, 2011  | Colleges 9/10 Multi-Purpose Room

8:00 AM Light Breakfast

8:50 AM Welcome

9:00 AM PANEL 3: Affective, Spatial and Material Flows of Value
Karin Knorr Cetina, Sociology, University of Constance, Germany
Randy Martin, Art and Public Policy, New York University
Paolo Quattrone, Accounting, IE Business School
Richard Walker, Geography, University of California Berkeley

11:00 AM Break

11:15 AM PANEL 4: Social Risk, Human Capital and Financializing Inequality
Prabhat Patnaik, Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Darel Paul, Political Science, Williams College
Lynn Stout, Corporate and Securities Law, University of California Los Angeles
Shyam Sunder, Accounting, Economics and Finance, Yale University

1:15 PM Lunch

2:00 PM ROUND TABLE 2: Critique, Confession and Conversion in the Aftermath of 2008
Gopal Balakrishnan, History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz
Rakesh Bhandari, Rhetoric, UC Berkeley
Karen Ho, Anthropology, University of Minnesota
Michael MacDonald, Political Science, Williams College
Robert Meister, Political Thought, UC Santa Cruz
Kristin Peterson, Anthropology, UC Irvine
Lisa Rofel, Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz
Lynn Stout, Corporate and Securities Law, University of California Los Angeles
Robert Wosnitzer, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University


Please note: schedule subject to change

This event is made possible by the Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism and co-sponsored by the UCSC Division of Social Sciences, UCSC Institute for Humanities Research.

For further information or accommodations, contact the UCSC Institute for Humanities Research, Michael Tassio, Program Coordinator, (831) 459-1274,


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