To historian Ed Balleisen, the ongoing debate over
regulatory governance isn't just a political battle, but a means of recapturing
important historical elements of the American story that have become lost.
"Something was recalibrated in the United States over the
past 20 to 30 years," Balleisen said.
"You see this in expressions of how absolute central finance is to
the global economy and the social value of what that work is. That's where you get [Goldman CEO] Lloyd
Blankfein saying Wall Street is 'doing God's work.' Where did that come from?"
It comes from changing world views in America, he said. Balleisen noted that it's one thing to gain
riches through the pursuit of self-interest and an entirely different thing
"to be engaged in something that benefits you and to be able to put it in
an accepted moral framework that justifies it to broader society."
Consider the topic of innovation. "Innovation allows us
to do things better, do them more effectively and create opportunities,"
Balleisen said. "From roughly 1990
to 2007, financial innovation meant the creation of a number of new strategies,
tools and instruments that appeared to lower the cost of capital and make
credit more available, especially to people who couldn't access it
previously. Who could be against
But two years later, those same strategies, tools and
instruments lay at the heart of the world's greatest financial crisis since the
Great Depression. Nevertheless, strong
political and cultural actors still make the claim that those financial
innovators were acting in the common interest for the betterment of all, he said.
Balleisen's take on Occupy Wall Street and related movements
is that they are developing a counter narrative that parallels to some extent
the same ethical approach the Duke project is taking. In doing so, they ask the question, What does
America stand for?
"Right now, we're seeing a drumbeat for killing the
regulatory state," Balleisen said. "But in the U.S., there is a
complicated political tradition that goes beyond prizing individual
freedom. It also includes an activist
state, sometimes progressive and sometimes conservative, that values the
"In this strand of American civic life, democracy represents
the capacity of disconnected individuals to come together through democratic
structures, and other institutions created by democratic structures, to
construct fair ground rules of shared lives. This rationale rests at the heart
of our regulatory framework, but it's one that has receded from many people's