About Just Money

On this website, we approach money as a legal project.  Created to meet demands both public and private, money depends on law for its definition, issue, and operation.    That legal structure of money – its design – matters deeply.  In the words attributed to an early  banker, “those who create and issue money . . . direct the policies of government and hold in the hollow of their hands the destiny of the people.”   Our aim is to encourage discussion, debate, and scholarship on money’s design and its reform towards a world that is as just as it is (economically) productive. (read more)

Roundtables

Our roundtables provide the opportunity for a short, concentrated discussion of a particular design innovation or controversy.  Projected topics include banks and money creation, state public banking, postal banking, the Libra currency project (Zuck Bucks), and open access Federal Reserve Accounts.  An invited contribution from a key player or knowledgeable commentator kicks off the discussion with an entry that sets out the topic.  We publish solicited responses by people with a variety of perspectives.  We welcome your suggestions for topics and participants.  Please send them to Dan Rohde, editor@justmoney.org.…


Current Scholarship

This page contains abstracts and links to recent scholarship on monetary design and related issues. We also welcome posts to older scholarship that should be flagged.

Please submit abstracts to Dan Rohde: editor@justmoney.org

Christine Desan, Managing Editor

Christine DesanChristine Desan is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the author of Making Money:  Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2014).  The book argues that a radical transformation in the way societies produce money ushered in capitalism as a public project.  From creating money as a direct credit (coined or not) that linked the political community to members, sovereigns moved to intermediating the public medium.  They issued it through investors, nascent central bankers, and enshrined the profit motive as the incentive that regulated money’s production.  Those innovations exploded old strictures on money creation and revolutionized attitudes towards self-interest.

Desan’s research more generally explores money as a constitutional (small “c”) project that structures material life and governance. Earlier work focused on the adjudicative power of legislatures and sovereign immunity.  Desan teaches courses on the constitutional law of money, globalization as a monetary phenomenon, and monetary reform.  She is co-founder of Harvard’s Program on the Study of Capitalism, an interdisciplinary project that brings together classes, resources, research funds, and advising on that subject and has taught the Program’s anchoring research seminar, the Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism, with Professor Sven Beckert (History, Harvard University) since 2005.  Desan is on the Board of the Institute for Global Law and Policy and is an editor of the journal Eighteenth Century Studies. She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and served on …

Dan Rohde, Assistant Editor

Dan Rohde

Dan Rohde is an S.J.D. Candidate at Harvard Law School, where his research focuses on the intersection of monetary institutions, business firms and employment. His dissertation will look historically at how the creation of modern monetary institutions paved the way for the development of the employment relationship.

Prior to enrolling at Harvard Law School, Dan practiced in labor and employment law at a leading union-side law firm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, as well as at a legal clinic that specializes in cases with a systemic impact on those living in poverty throughout Ontario. He also worked briefly as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, NY.

Dan has a B.A. from the New School University, an M.S. in Education from Brooklyn College, and a J.D. from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.  After law school, he clerked at the Ontario Court of Appeal for Associate Chief Justice Alexandra Hoy, Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor and Justice Eileen Gillese.

Susan Smith, Website Developer

Susan Smith is a faculty assistant at Harvard Law School. Before coming to HLS, she was a course manager, project evaluator and mentor for students working through online programming courses at Udacity.

Susan has a B.A. from Framingham State University, and an A.L.M. from the Harvard University Extension School.…

Mehrsa Baradaran, Co-Editor

Mehrsa BaradaranMehrsa Baradaran is a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.  Baradaran writes about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, both published by the Harvard University Press. The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap was awarded the Best Book of the Year by the Urban Affairs Association, the PROSE Award Honorable Mention in the Business, Finance & Management category. Baradaran was also selected as a finalist at the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Awards for the book in the category of history/biography.

Baradaran has also published articles including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, “It’s Time for Postal Banking” in the Harvard Law Review Forum, and  “Banking and the Social Contract” in the Notre Dame Law Review.  Baradaran and her books have received significant national and international media coverage and have been featured in the New York Times, the AtlanticSlateAmerican Banker, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times; on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and Public Broadcasting Service’s “NewsHour;” and as part of TEDxUGA. She has advised U.S. Senators and Congressmen on policy, testified before the U.S. Congress, and spoken at national and international …

Roy Kreitner, Co-Editor

Roy KreitnerRoy Kreitner is a professor at the law faculty of Tel Aviv University. His research focuses on private law theory, jurisprudence and legal history, and the history and theory of money. His scholarship includes Calculating Promises: The Emergence of Modern American Contract Doctrine (Stanford, 2007), and articles such as The Jurisprudence of Global Money (Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 2010); Legal History of Money (Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2012); Toward a Political Economy of Money (in Research Handbook on Political Economy and Law, Hugo Mattei & John D. Haskell eds., 2015); Voicing the Market (Toronto Law Journal, 2019); and Money Talks: Institutional Investors and Voice in Contract (Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 2019).

Kreitner is currently working on a book manuscript on the history of money in the United States between the Civil War and World War I. The book details the transformation of money from a searing issue of electoral politics in the last third of the 19th century to an expert dominated issue of bank reform by the time of the establishment of the Federal Reserve. It tries to answer the question of how money could go from center-stage and fever pitch to non-partisan technocratic reform within a generation, and to explore the meaning of such a shift not only for money, but for the shape of American capitalism writ large.

Kreitner has been a fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies and at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and a visiting professor at Brooklyn …

Lev Menand, Co-Editor

Lev MenandLev Menand is a lecturer in law and postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia Law School. Lev’s research focuses on banking law and financial regulation in the United States, the origins and evolution of central banking, monetary policy, corporate law, white collar crime, administrative law, law and political economy, and the history of economic thought. During the Obama administration, Lev served as senior advisor to the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. He has also worked as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in both the Bank’s Supervision Group and in its Research and Statistics Group, where he helped to develop econometric models for the Federal Reserve System’s first Comprehensive Capital Assessment and Review. During his time at the New York Fed, Lev was seconded to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, where he helped to prepare the Council’s first financial stability report. Lev has a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He clerked for Judge Jed S. Rakoff on the Southern District of New York and Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.…

Nadav Orian Peer, Co-Editor

Nadav Orian PeerNadav Orian Peer is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School. His scholarship and teaching focus on the law of financial institutions, including banking, capital markets, derivatives and community reinvestment.

Orian Peer’s research explores the intense framework of governance and regulation that undergirds the day-to-day functioning of financial markets. The design and operation of this framework has profound implications for the distribution of credit and economic opportunity in society. His recent articles include Negotiating the Lender-of-Last-Resort: The 1913 Fed Act as a Debate Over Credit Distribution (15 NYU Journal of Law & Business, 2019) and Your Grandfather’s Shadow Banking: Clearing and Call Loans in Gilded Age New York, forthcoming in Inside Money: Re-Theorizing Liquidity (Christine Desan ed.). Orian Peer’s current research focuses on policy proposals to increase access to credit for important social goals like fair housing, and climate mitigation efforts.

Before joining Colorado Law, Orian Peer worked as a visiting assistant professor in Tulane Law School, as well as a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (Financial Markets Group). He completed an S.J.D. at Harvard Law School, where he taught as a Byse Fellow. As a member of the Israel Bar Association, he also practiced commercial litigation, specializing in bankruptcy and secured transactions.

 

 

Morgan Ricks, Co-Editor

Morgan RicksMorgan Ricks is Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School. He studies financial regulation. From 2009-10, he was a senior policy advisor and financial restructuring expert at the U.S. Treasury Department, where he focused primarily on financial stability initiatives and capital markets policy. Before joining the Treasury Department, he was a risk-arbitrage trader at Citadel Investment Group, a Chicago-based hedge fund. He previously served as a vice president in the investment banking division of Merrill Lynch & Co., where he specialized in strategic and capital-raising transactions for financial services companies. He began his career as a mergers and acquisitions attorney at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. He is the author of The Money Problem: Rethinking Financial Regulation (U. Chicago Press 2016).

Michael Svedman, Contributor

Michael Svedman, ContributorMichael Svedman is a 3L at Harvard Law School. He has worked as a legal intern at ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights law firm in St. Louis, MO, and as a summer associate in the corporate department at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, NY. Michael’s research as a law student has focused on matters related to the law of money and finance, and he has written on topics including the Italian mini-BOT proposal and the status of parallel currencies under EU law, the political economy of large passive investment vehicles, and corporate governance reforms aimed at curbing financialization.

Michael is also the executive article editor of the Harvard Law & Policy Review and a managing editor of the Harvard Law School Blockchain and Fintech Initiative’s Ledgers & Law blog.…

Current Scholarship
A Public Option for Bank Accounts

Authors: Morgan Ricks, John Crawford, and Lev Menand
This paper argues that restricting central bank accounts to an exclusive clientele (banks) is no longer justifiable on policy grounds if indeed it ever was. We propose giving the general public—individuals, businesses, and institutions—the option to hold accounts at the central bank, which we call FedAccounts. FedAccounts would offer all the functionality of ordinary bank accounts with the exception of overdraft coverage. They would also have all the special features that banks currently enjoy on their central bank accounts, as well as some additional, complementary features. Government-issued physical currency is already an open-access resource, available to all; the FedAccount program would merely do the same for nonphysical or “account” money. The FedAccount program would bring genuinely transformational change to the monetary-financial system, in ways both obvious and unexpected.

Ricks, Morgan and Crawford, John and Menand, Lev, A Public Option for Bank Accounts (Or Central Banking for All) (December 2, 2018). Vanderbilt Law Research Paper 18-33; UC Hastings Research Paper No. 287. Available at SSRN:  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3192162 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3192162

Current Scholarship
Money as Infrastructure

Author: Morgan Ricks
Traditional infrastructure regulation—the law of regulated industries—rests atop three pillars: rate regulation, entry restriction, and universal service. This mode of regulation has typically been applied to providers of network-type resources: resources that are optimally supplied as integrated systems. The monetary system is such a resource; and money creation is the distinctive function of banks. Bank regulation can therefore be understood as a subfield of infrastructure regulation. With few exceptions, modern academic treatments of banking have emphasized banks’ intermediation function and downplayed or ignored their monetary function. Concomitantly, in recent decades U.S. bank regulation has strayed from its infrastructural roots. This regulatory drift has been unwise.

Ricks, Morgan, Money as Infrastructure (March 11, 2018). Columbia Business Law Review (2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3070270 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3070270

Current Scholarship
Money as a Legal Institution

Author: Christine A. Desan
This chapter summarizes the case for considering money as a legal institution. The Western liberal tradition, represented here by John Locke’s iconic account of money, describes money as an item that emerged from barter before the state existed. Considered as an historical practice, money is instead a method of representing and moving resources within a group. It is a way of entailing or fixing material value in a standard that gains currency because of the unique cash services it provides. The evidence to that end comes from coin itself, the practice of free-minting, judicial commentary, and academic theorizing. As the second half of the chapter details, the relationships that make money work are matters of governance carried out in law. Thus law defines public debt, allocates authority to create money, and determines what counts as a ‘commodity’. Comparing medieval, early American, and modern money law on money demonstrates the dramatic importance of that legal engineering

Desan, Christine A., Money as a Legal Institution (September 5, 2013). In: David Fox and Wolfgang Ernst, ‘Money in the Western Legal Tradition’, 2015, Forthcoming; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 13-34. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2321313

Current Scholarship
How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking

Author: Mehrsa Baradaran
The United States currently has two banking systems — one for the rich, one for the poor. It wasn’t always this way. Throughout U.S. history, the government has enlisted certain banking institutions to serve the needs of the poor and offer low cost credit to enable low-income Americans to escape poverty. Credit unions, savings and loans and Morris Banks are three prominent examples of government-supported institutions with a specific focus of helping the poor. Unfortunately, these institutions are no longer fulfilling their missions and high-cost, usurious, and sometimes predatory check-cashers and payday lenders have quickly filled the void. These fringe banks do not provide the poor with useful credit and further bury them in debt. This article tracks the neglected history of government sponsored institutions designed to offer credit to the poor and explains how each abandoned its initial purpose. In doing so, the article highlights the shifts in modern banking that rapidly increased competition among banks and caused homogenization in form. Alternative banking institutions could not survive deregulation and were forced to assimilate and operate like mainstream banks with heightened profits as their sole objective. The poor were the victims.

This article proposes to re-establish government-sponsored banks to serve the poor. Options include redesigning existing government measures as well as a novel proposal to use the existing postal service branches to offer low-cost, short-term credit to the poor. Such proposals have strong historic roots and could allow millions of low-income Americans the opportunity to escape …

Current Scholarship
Just Prices

Authors: Robert C. Hockett and Roy Kreitner
In what sense do market prices represent or convey value? At first glance, such prices might look like the upshot of spontaneous social aggregation without exogenously imposed order: uncoordinated individual trading decisions yield “price information” that is said both to induce socially efficient productive decisions and to set a framework that facilitates coherent and welfare-enhancing consumer choice. But while some trading decisions might well be uncoordinated, far from all of them are; and the rules within which trade is conducted are in any event the product of social choice. When we recognize that these rules of trade and certain public practices of trade affect the terms of trade, we cannot but ask whether the rules, the relevant practices, and the prices they partly produce can underwrite just social arrangements. The shorthand rendition of this question is when are market prices just? In this symposium contribution we set out to untangle some of the economic and philosophic issues implicated by this loaded question, and to propose a set of considerations that can aid evaluation of the justice (or otherwise) of market prices.

Hockett, Robert C. and Kreitner, Roy, Just Prices (November 12, 2017). 27 Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy __ (2018) ; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-49. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3069966

Current Scholarship
Negotiating the Lender-of-Last-Resort: The 1913 Fed Act as a Debate Over Credit Distribution

Author: Nadav Orian Peer
“Lending of last resort” is one of the key powers of central banks. As a lender-of-last-resort, the Federal Reserve famously supports commercial banks facing distressed liquidity conditions, thereby mitigating destabilizing bank runs. Less famously, lender-of-last-resort powers also influence the distribution of credit among different groups in society and therefore have high stakes for economic inequality. The Fed’s role as a lender-of-last-resort witnessed an unprecedented expansion during the 2007-9 Crisis when the Fed invoked emergency powers to lend to a new set of borrowers known as “shadow banks”. The decision proved controversial and spurred legislative reform narrowing the Fed’s authority as well as an ongoing scholarly debate. Participants in this debate, the article argues, limited their focus to financial stability considerations, thereby neglecting those powers’ considerable distributive implications. The article contributes to the current literature by demonstrating the distributive stakes of lender-of-last-resort powers through a concrete historical example: the legislative debate around the 1913 Federal Reserve Act that established the Fed. During that time, three different groups debated the legal definition of “eligible collateral” that the Fed could accept from borrowers to secure emergency loans. The first group was corporate financiers, who were interested in supporting capital markets. The second group was the Democratic framers of the Act, who tried to divert credit away from corporate securities and into small businesses. The third group was farmers that needed credit for developing the agrarian periphery. I argue that each of these groups tried to shape the definition of …

Policy Spotlights

This column includes short pieces explaining policy proposals that highlight, revise, or contest current monetary design.  While we focus on contemporary proposals, historical episodes may be included occasionally.  Columns are written by editors or by student authors and will be updated monthly. …

Roundtable #1
Banking and Money Creation

Roundtable #1
Commercial banks are, indisputably, at the center of credit allocation in virtually all modern economies.  Astonishingly, however, it remains controversial exactly how banks expand the money supply.

According to one view, banks operate as intermediaries who move money from savers to borrowers.  The basic idea is that banks extend the monetary base by lending out of accumulated funds in a reiterative way.  In round 1: a bank takes a deposit, sets aside a reserve, lends on the money; round 2 – the money lands in another bank, that bank sets aside a reserve, lends on the money; round 3 – the process repeats.   Money’s operation is effectively multiplied in the economy because banks transmit funds constantly from (passive) savers to (active) borrowers, thus distributing money across those hands.   The system works because savers, who are content to leave their funds alone, are unlikely to demand more than the (respective) reserve amounts back from any round.  Banks balance their flow of funds over time as borrowers repay their loans. 

According to another view, commercial banking activity amounts to “money creation” rather than the pooling and transmission of existing funds.  Banks fund the loans they make by issuing deposits (or promises-to-pay in the official unit of account) that are treated by the wider community as money, not only as credit.  They have, in effect, immediate purchasing power.   The constraint on banks’ lending capacity is not the sum of previously accumulated funds, but the banks’ ability to clear …

Roundtable #2
Virtual Currencies and the State

Upcoming December 5, 2019

Roundtable #2
Contributors to be announced

On October 10th, 2019, the SEC brought suit against Telegram, asserting that its $1.7 billion offering of Gram “tokens” violated federal securities laws.  The same week, five large investors including Visa, Mastercard, Stripe, eBay, and Mercado Pago pulled out of Facebook’s virtual currency Libra, apparently taken aback by the fierce criticism leveled at Libra by politicians and regulators.   These events were striking, occurring as they did against a baseline of official inaction, ambivalence, or accommodation of virtual currencies.  It is an opportune moment to ask:  What are virtual currencies – money, securities, or speculative assets?   How do they relate to modern political communities and to the financial architecture that those states support?  Why at this moment have governments chosen to crack down on virtual currencies?

The movement towards virtual currencies took off in 2008, when an anonymous person or group introduced Bitcoin.  In the decade that followed, Etherium, Peercoin, and others offered similar products:  digital assets created and maintained by a decentralized set of participants that can be traded for goods and services.  Many users praised virtual currencies on the ground that they eliminated the role of law, the government, and/or the financial industry.  According to the Bitcoin model, rules intended to operate mechanically control the production of virtual currencies and limit the quantity of virtual currency ultimately created.   Exchange occurs according to a technology that Marco Iansite and Karim Lakhani describe as “an open, distributed ledger that …