Rethinking Capitalism conference at UCSC to examine the cost of sustaining a fragile system

Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — As the financial sector pieces itself back together — with substantial governmental assistance — a fired-up group of academics, theologians, financial leaders and a best-selling science-fiction author are gearing up for a far-reaching discussion about the 2008 collapse and the costly efforts to shore up what may be an unsustainable system.

“Something has changed,” said Bob Meister, a UC Santa Cruz professor of political and social thought and of history of consciousness. Meister is also the director of the Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism, a UCSC project for developing critical ideas in finance and political economy.

This week, the Bruce Initiative has joined forces with the university to produce the second “Rethinking Capitalism” conference, where panelists from around the world and several hundred participants will delve into what it really means for a society to dedicate itself to capitalism.

Meister is joining Stephen Bruce of The Bruce Trust and Horace “Woody” Brock,
president of Strategic Economic Decision, on the opening panel Thursday evening.

Following keynote panel, “Telling the Story of 2008: Realistic, Utopian and Apocalyptic Narratives of What Could Have Happened” will feature Kim Stanley
Robinson, a science-fiction author known for his Mars trilogy; Lynn Stout, corporate and securities law professor at UCLA; and Graham Ward, University of Manchester professor of contextual theology and ethics.

The event, to be held on campus at the University Center, will feature two more panels and round table discussions each day through Saturday. The Thursday through Saturday conference is free and open to the public.

“People are very aware of how fragile the entire capital market is,” Meister said. “What attitude should we have toward a market, particularly a capital market that no longer seems self sustaining? Should our attitude be ironic now that we know we have to do whatever it takes at whatever it costs to our social system to keep it going? Or can we find a different voice that lets us move forward and change things, rather than prolonging what we had, knowing that we can’t?”

Last year’s inaugural Rethinking Capitalism conference focused on derivatives, the esoteric financial instruments that helped drive the economy to the brink of failure.

“Now we’re drilling down,” said Bruce, founder of the Bruce Initiative. Bruce is a UCSC economics graduate who went on to a career in international asset management. His work is motivated in part by his brother Mark Bruce, who worked on the 104th floor of Two World Trade Center and was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the attack on the Twin Towers. He worked for the securities firm Sandler O’Neill.

He founded the Bruce Initiative at UCSC because of its interdisciplinary approach to probing critical social and economic issues in unconventional ways.

“This year we will look at social systems and questions of distribution and allocation,” Bruce said. “People used to be persuaded that the problems in markets could be solved by creating more markets. Now I think people no longer expect these markets to operate without very heavy involvement from government and central banks and
government can’t do what they do to keep these markets going without suspending democracy. The general view is that the system has been saved but that we’re on borrowed time. The purpose of the conference is really an attempt to figure out what kind of time that is.”

This article appeared here.

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