September 8, 2012
by Annelise Riles

The emerging academic consensus on the future of financial regulation

I am in Freiburg, Germany for a conference at the Max-Planck Institute on Regulation and Law Enforcement after the financial crisis.  Freiburg is the greenest city in Germany, I am told proudly by our hosts: 100% of the energy used in the city comes from renewable sources. Everywhere you see small systems installed in the streams to collect little bits of energy that are pooled to supply local energy needs.  Even visitors are supplied with a public transport pass on hotel check-in and advised to take the tram, bicycle or walk to our appointments. The air is clean and crisp and, in marked contrast to my own country, people look remarkably fit and relaxed. If Freiburg can do it, why not Ithaca?


At the conference, I can sense a palpable shift in the way scholars are beginning to think about the financial crisis as compared to several years ago. There is a breadth of approaches–geography, sociology, anthropology, experimental psychology, criminology–and scholars are engaging in direct, detailed and fruitful conversation with practitioners.  Everyone seems to have far more patience for approaches and perspectives different from their own–perhaps we have all been chastened by the limits of our own disciplinary viewpoints! The practitioners themselves are more diverse in their views than in the past.  Some think the government is doing a great job, but others (including former government regulators) have an extremely dark and pessimistic view of how things are going on the inside, and they are not afraid to say so. The consensus of the conference was clearly that, four years after the start of the financial crisis, we have not made nearly enough progress in making the kinds of regulatory and institutional changes needed to prevent the next one.  We joked that each of us outdid the next in our presentations with ever-darker pictures of the political impediments to regulatory reform, the structural problems such as a lack of self-confidence and incentives against forceful action among regulators and prosecutors, and the limits of the securities and criminal laws for addressing problematic behavior. I talked about a different level of problem–the rise since 2008 of a new mode of state managerialism I call Market Totalitarianism (which gives you a sense of what I think of it!) More on that in a next post.


But the real reason I am posting here is that I met a remarkable young legal anthropologist, Johanna Mugler, who is just beginning her teaching career at the University of Bern and working on the politics and epistemology of taxation.  She told me what this blog means to her and her students and chided me for not posting more frequently as of late! It’s an honor to have a conversation anywhere with imaginative young scholars like Johanna–and if this blog can be a venue of that kind of conversation with so many readers like her, well, that is all the inspiration I need to get cracking again. Thank you, Johanna!

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