Paper 2: Finance's Role in Society

Due Date: Class 15.

Length: 1, 200-1,500 words, double-spaced with standard margins (1in) and font (12pt).

Grade: 15% of your final course grade.

Setting The Scene

The major theme of "Chapter 2" of Finance and Society has been the growth of finance as a global technical system between roughly 1790 and 1945. As we have seen, this period saw more and more people, from various geographic and social positions, become entangled in global financial networks. This increasing entanglement brought both positive effects—the ability to develop infrastructure, growing economic productivity, greater average wealth—and negative ones—loss of economic autonomy, greater concentration of wealth, increased susceptibility to economic crisis. To a great degree, the allocation of these benefits and costs followed divisions of geography, class, gender, ethnicity, and race.

In this context, finance became the subject of new political controversies. Financial practitioners, journalists, jurists, politicians, and others began to contemplate the role that finance, financial technologies, and financiers played—or ought to play—in society. What function did finance play in the broader economy? How did the expanding presence of finance accord with a nation's political values? Who ought to participate in the benefits, and the costs, of financial action? What were the consequences of financial activity for average people? These questions became the subject of public debate. We have encountered a variety of different texts that addressed these questions in some way, including texts by: Alexander Hamilton, George Logan, Josiah Nott, Andrew Jackson, the anonymous author of "Panic in Wall Street," W. R. Lawson, D. W. Griffith (A Corner in Wheat), C. A. Conant, Louis Brandeis, H. W. Moorhouse, and Samuel Crowther's interview with John J. Raskob.


A successful "compare / contrast" essay achieves two objectives. The first objective is to explain the arguments made by your chosen texts and to identify what is similar and different about those arguments. Be specific. What assumptions, values, ideas, conclusions, etc. do your texts share in common? Where do they diverge?

The second objective is to draw conclusions on the basis of your comparison. What can we learn from the similarities and differences between the two texts? Can you think of a possible explanation for why the texts have the similarities / differences that they do? Do those similarities / differences tell us something about the different authors who produced them and the different contexts in which they were written?

There are many valuable conclusions you might draw. For example, by comparing texts from different time periods, you might be able to show change (or continuity) over time. By comparing texts written in different places, or by people with different social positions or political values, you might be able to draw a connection between how certain writers thought about finance and those authors' geographic, social, or political environments.

Some general advice: There are many good ways to write a compare / contrast paper. A good strategy can be to think about what is most surprising about the relationship between your chosen texts. Sometimes the most surprising and interesting thing can be a difference between two texts: For example, you might show that Text A came to one conclusion, while Text B thirty years later concluded exactly the opposite. Other times, the most surprising and interesting thing might be a similarity: For example, you might show that Texts X, Y, and Z all share some fundamental assumption, despite being written in vastly different times and places. Follow your instincts. What jumps out most to you?

A few logistical points:

You may not choose all texts from a single class meeting. You must compare texts from at least two different sessions. (You cannot, for example, write a paper that only compares Conant and Brandeis. You may certainly compare either of those two to a different text, or write about Conant and Brandeis in conjunction with a third text).

There are no "bonus points" for discussing three texts instead of two. You may well find that you can write a more pointed, insightful argument by focusing on fewer texts and analyzing them more deeply. No outside research is required for this paper. Please stick to writing about texts from the syllabus. If you wish, you may draw upon other texts from the syllabus, especially secondary sources, in order to provide background or context for your analysis (with proper citation, of course).

If you wish, you may choose to write about Griffith's film, "A Corner in Wheat," as one of your chosen texts. (It is a wonderful historical source!) If you choose to do so, make sure that you refer to specific moments and scenes in the film. Note those specific moments by giving the time (mm:ss) in the film at which they occur. (You can refer the YouTube time markers).