Philip Pro Lectureship in Legal History with Christine Desan


Thursday, February 25, 2016 -
4:00pm to 6:00pm


Thomas and Mack Moot Court

February 25, 2016

4:00 pm     Lecture

5:00 pm     Reception

Thomas and Mack Moot Courtroom, UNLV Law School


The 18th Century Innovation That Constituted Capitalism:  New Money and its Epochal Aftermath

Christine Desan, Harvard Law School


From Defoe to Marx, Simmel to Sandel, commentators have located money at the heart of capitalism.  Pope Francis recently identified our economic system as one “centered on the god of money” and decried its destructive impact on the natural world.   But money is not a constant force, an entity that travels across time and space with a single organizing logic.  It is, instead, a matter engineered in ways that have changed mightily over time and place.    The 18th century brought a radical redesign in money:  the English in that era innovated a medium that shared the state’s monopoly on money creation with private investors and ordained their judgment indispensable in the public project of allocating that medium.   

The experiment elevated liberal notions of human agency:  the individualized interest of bankers became the compass for the monetary system.  The expanded role and power of business also suggested that "the market" was or should be distinct from "politics," an assumption that cast government's influence on the economy as intervention.  New money in turn anchored a cascade of institutional innovations that built the modern political economy, including sovereign debt sold across borders, central banks, modern commercial banks, money markets, and capital markets.     That architecture had ideological as well as institutional impact, and powerfully configured social and material patterns in the ensuing epoch.  A revolutionary political practice – modern money – thus generated the contemporary order we call “capitalism.” 

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