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Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America

Author

Listed:
  • Levy, Jonathan

    (Princeton University)

Abstract

Until the early nineteenth century, “risk” was a specialized term: it was the commodity exchanged in a marine insurance contract. Freaks of Fortune tells the story of how the modern concept of risk emerged in the United States. Born on the high seas, risk migrated inland and became essential to the financial management of an inherently uncertain capitalist future. Focusing on the hopes and anxieties of ordinary people, Jonathan Levy shows how risk developed through the extraordinary growth of new financial institutions—insurance corporations, savings banks, mortgage-backed securities markets, commodities futures markets, and securities markets—while posing inescapable moral questions. For at the heart of risk’s rise was a new vision of freedom. To be a free individual, whether an emancipated slave, a plains farmer, or a Wall Street financier, was to take, assume, and manage one’s own personal risk. Yet this often meant offloading that same risk onto a series of new financial institutions, which together have only recently acquired the name “financial services industry.” Levy traces the fate of a new vision of personal freedom, as it unfolded in the new economic reality created by the American financial system. Amid the nineteenth-century’s waning faith in God’s providence, Americans increasingly confronted unanticipated challenges to their independence and security in the boom and bust chance-world of capitalism. Freaks of Fortune is one of the first books to excavate the historical origins of our own financialized times and risk-defined lives.

Suggested Citation

  • Levy, Jonathan, 2012. "Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America," Economics Books, Harvard University Press, number 9780674047488, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:hup:pbooks:9780674047488
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Felipe González & Guillermo Marshall & Suresh Naidu, 2016. "Start-up Nation? Slave Wealth and Entrepreneurship in Civil War Maryland," NBER Working Papers 22483, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. John Wallis, 2015. "Rules, Organizations, and Governments," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 43(1), pages 69-86, March.
    3. Timothy Johnson, 2015. "Reciprocity as a Foundation of Financial Economics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 43-67, September.
    4. repec:cup:jechis:v:77:y:2017:i:02:p:373-405_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Chatriot, Alain, 2014. "The laws of the markets: Historical perspectives on political-economic regulation. The example of twentieth-century french agricultural policy," economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, vol. 15(3), pages 12-18.
    6. Timothy C. Johnson, 2013. "Reciprocity as the foundation of Financial Economics," Papers 1310.2798, arXiv.org.
    7. Peter Knight, 2013. "Introduction," Journal of Cultural Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(1), pages 2-12, February.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • P1 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems
    • G0 - Financial Economics - - General

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