Search This Blog

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Short-selling in the buff

Ah, the iPad ... My latest technological fix for the problem of finding a way to blog more frequently.

An inaugural, twitterish comment: Nice headline on James Mackintosh's "Markets" column in the Financial Times today - "The bad guys who are running short of friends" - but how could he write it without considering the differences between good old-fashioned short selling and the naked version? Disappointing.

(Apologies for the lack of a link - for some reason I can't get to load at the moment.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Way to go, Seth! (with my apologies)

I erred in my blog about the history of capitalism panel at the OAH (see below):  Seth Rockman's Scraping By:  Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) was co-winner of the OAH's 2010 Merle Curti Award.  It was also awarded the 2010 Philip Taft Labor History Book Award.  Congratulations, Seth!

Just in time - the history of capitalism

Economic history - especially in the broader sense - has largely disappeared from the curriculum in departments of history in the U.S.  So students who want a historical perspective on the recent transformations of the American (or global) economy have limited opportunities at most universities today.  But this may be about to change.  

The history of capitalism was the subject of one of the "state of the field" panels at the Organization of American Historians' annual meeting in Washington, D.C., last weekend.  The panelists included myselfSven Beckert (Harvard University), Julia Ott (The New School), and Seth Rockman (Brown University).  Bethany Moreton (University of Georgia) chaired the panel, which was organized by Margot Canaday (Princeton).  

We drew an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd and, at least from the people I talked with, rave reviews.  This bodes well for the future of this new field, which seeks to make economic history accessible to historians in a way that it hasn't been for half a century - and just when we need it badly.  So does the news that Bethany's new book on Wal-Mart won the OAH's prestigious Frederick Jackson Turner Award and that Seth's Scraping By garnered an honorable mention in the competition for the Merle Curti Award.  Departments of history (and their philanthropists), take note!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem (YouTube video)

In lecture last Thursday, my topic was the great slide into depression from 1929 to 1932-33, and I ended - in the obvious place - by emphasizing the lack of consensus about why it happened. A couple days later, a student pointed me to this video. Not sure what the mustaches are about, or why all the women are bimbos, but it's an interesting teaching tool. I'd love to find something similar on the manifold consequences of high fixed costs and Americans' struggle to come to grips with them in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Natural persons, artificial persons, and the color of corporations (Citizens United v. FEC)

Whatever happened to the distinction between a "natural person" and a "fictitious person" (i.e., corporation) or, in Chief Justice Marshall's words in the Dartmouth College Case (1819), "an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law . . . . the mere creature of law"? The fact that a corporation is composed of natural persons (stockholders) does not make the corporation itself a natural person, and it is ludicrous to think that the founders ever imagined that the Constitution would apply to corporations. Except for the growing number, size, and power of corporations, which were practically non-existent in the U.S. when the Constitution was drafted, the facts have not changed.

An interesting affirmation of Justice Marshall's view occurred in a legal case from 1908 (109 Va. 439) in which the Virginia Supreme Court held that, because a corporation, an artifical being, exists separately from the stockholders who compose it, a "corporation composed of Negroes" is "not a 'colored' person" (quotations from a notice in Michigan Law Review, 7 [Nov. 1908]: 67).

Surely the 19th-century innovation of extending constitutional rights to "artificial beings" is ripe for reassessment.

Or, if the current Court thinking about corporations were to prevail, should municipal corporations also be accorded free-speech rights? Then, on the basis of a referendum perhaps, cities could put their tax dollars behind particular gubernatorial or presidential candidates.