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Conference Overview

How do we sustain hope in the economy? Hope—usually indexed by terms like consumer confidence, or market optimism—is the engine of market stability and growth. And yet most of the current techniques for producing confidence in the economy—from stimulus packages to new regulatory architectures—are at best limited solutions. How these policies translate into individual market participants’ hope in the market remains unclear, and most policy makers and market participants are at best uneasy about how effective existing approaches will be and what unintended consequences they might bring with them.

What are the regulatory, institutional, and legal devices and techniques that actually produce hope—and hence market stability and growth? What kinds of social and political institutions give markets legitimacy and encourage market participants, professionals and regulators to be hopeful—proactive, risk-taking, and embracing of change? Is there anything we, as professionals—financial and legal professionals—involved in the markets can do? We suggest that the only real way to bring about change—market stability, and progress—is through individual action. We propose that we begin to think about the market as a collective project and a collective good—like the environment, or our political future—in which we all have a stake.

This conference aims to set in motion what we call a “market movement”—an analog to recently successful social or political movements. One of the hallmarks of recent political movements has been the understanding that each of our actions have larger consequences. “Think globally, act locally” is the slogan of the environmental movement, or “the personal is political” has been the slogan of the feminist movement. In the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama called this move “hope”: hope for him is the realization that each of us has power to effectuate real change. So our question is, if this is true for politics and society, could it also be true for the market?

To date, we have not thought of markets in this way. Economics takes a fairly cynical view of human motivations, and the currently dominant approach to market regulation assumes that market participants’ self-interest leads to disaster—and hence that their behavior must be controlled through government regulation alone. While this is surely correct to a point, the lessons of successful political and social movements is that the people typically lead, and the government follows.

So how would individual professionals’ actions translate into a better market future? Part of the answer is that lawyers and financial experts already have at their disposal the tools and methods they need to create a healthy global market, if only they could recognize them, and more systematically replicate them in public and private regulatory practice.

The theme of the conference is that professional skills and techniques, and the kinds of ethical and procedural commitments that define professionalism in law and finance are key. We professionals already have a series of tools and techniques at our disposal—techniques we use every day to bring about market stability and solve practical problems on a day to day mundane basis. The importance of these techniques and professional commitments has recently been underscored by new research on markets in sociology, anthropology, and legal studies. Just as more consciously taking individually steps to conserve energy translates into a more hopeful environmental politics, recognizing and deploying these techniques, behaviors and procedures in a more conscious and rigorous way can translate into a new market movement.

The conference will bring together professionals and experts in the financial markets with social scientists and lawyers who have studied hope in other legal, political and social movements to define a new agenda for market stabilization and reform from the ground up. The audience will include the segment of the wider educated public that has been most engaged with the meaning and uses of hope in recent months and years—young and emerging professionals. These will include law students, management students, and graduate students in the social sciences and humanities in the United States, Japan, and around the world who have a specific professional interest in how hope might be concretely relevant to their work.