The Warren Center, Harvard’s research center for United States history, invites applications for a workshop on Capitalism’s Hardwiring. Twice within the last two decades, the United States has kicked the monetary apparatus that formats its economy into crisis gear. Each time, the government leapt to rescue a financial infrastructure that had grown indispensable to modern markets even as it escaped the mooring of the “real economy.” As Americans confronted the devastation of home mortgage values in 2008, officials committed more than $5 trillion in lending, guarantees, or financing to firms operating in the capital markets. As the COVID-19 pandemic of 2021 wreaked extraordinary damage, particularly on people and communities in economic precarity, the Federal Reserve pledged somewhere between $5.5 and $8.5 trillion over a matter of weeks to maintain the markets for public bonds, corporate borrowing, and other financial assets. (By comparison, the size of the entire 2019 federal budget was $4.5 trillion.) The central bank’s pledge dwarfed even the exceptional spending that Congress put in place over the same period – and the Fed promised that it would do more if needed; there were no caps on several of its programs.
The crises we experience immediately expose a system fashioned over centuries. The 2022-2023 Warren Center faculty fellowship takes capitalism’s monetary hardwiring as its subject. We define that hardwiring broadly to include those architectures of finance and credit that today so profoundly shape material distribution, political voice, and disciplinary knowledge. That subject locates the United States as part of a global drama, one that travels from the domestic law on bank liabilities to the geography of the Gold Standard, from the human tragedy of slave mortgages to the disembodied dynamics of foreign exchange markets, and from the parochial assumptions of theorists to the universalizing abstractions of their theory. Likewise, the subject encompasses projects that range from the early modern to contemporary periods as well as those that interrogate change over long, intermittent, or unanticipated trajectories. Finally, the subject highlights a drama that occurred in many different registers; it invites inquiry that is interdisciplinary in method and/or targeting.
We welcome scholars who explore the ways that money and finance draw lines around communities and between people. The ways that political communities and other institutions make money and allocate credit critically shapes material processes – channeling liquidity, fueling productivity, and influencing distribution. At the same time, those decisions about money and credit structure social life and interaction, locating in particular hands (and removing from others) the authority to mobilize resources, determining access to funds, and delegating power and privileges to private actors and organizations. Those same determinations shape us at the conceptual level, informing elemental notions about human agency and relation.
Standing on the brink of a globalizing world, a commentator at the turn of the 20th century put it this way. “Those who create and issue money and credit direct the policies of government and hold in the hollow of their hands the destiny of the people.” The words captured forces of empire and industry, the configuration of wealth and poverty, changing norms of contract, probability, and risk, and very definition of “capital.”
Fellows will present their work in a seminar led by Chris Desan (Harvard Law) and Kenneth Mack (Harvard Law). Applicants may not be degree candidates and should have a Ph.D. or equivalent. Fellows have library privileges and an office which they must use for at least the 9-month academic year. The Center encourages applications consistent with the Workshop theme and from qualified applicants who can contribute, through their research and service, to the diversity and excellence of the community. Stipends: individually determined according to fellow needs and Center resources, up to a maximum of $66,000. Note that recent average stipends have been in the range of $50,000.