Harvard Law School, Spring 2019
Professor Christine Desan
Course Description: An integrated political economy now covers much of the globe. This course focuses on the monetary structure of that phenomenon as a matter created and contested in law. Trade, extraction, exchange, debt, and economic development – for centuries, all have depended on money as their medium. By examining the changing legal design of money, we will study globalization as a material, ideological, and distributive event of enormous significance.
Early sovereigns prioritized domestic law, both public and private, in developing the rules that provide the basic matrix for exchange. Those rules created the mediums that carry value – including money, credit, and circulating capital. Nation-states today still claim sovereignty over those decisions; they are basic to self-determination and economic development. But the latitude for those decisions had changed. New monetary and financial relations now bind states, individuals, and other entities together and reconfigure the possibilities for their interaction.
We consider the way that political communities assert sovereignty in money and finance, the challenges that occur as different sovereign projects collide, interact, or compete with one another, and the character of the international orders that have resulted, including those of early Europe, the era of the Gold Standard, the Bretton Woods period, and the contemporary system. We will focus, in particular, on the advent and development of finance-based money, a form of liquidity based on sovereign debt and expanded by commercial banks and capital markets. We discuss how that finance-based form defines value, authority, and markets in the modern world, with attention to its influence shaping international law and international financial institutions, its role as the medium for much of modern globalization, and its implications for global and domestic inequality.