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Christine Desan

  • illustration Bank with growth of money represented in background

    Going public

    July 7, 2021

    Harvard Law School students are working to create a Massachusetts public bank to help minority-owned businesses, small farms, and gateway cities.

  • Black business leaders in Massachusetts envision a ‘new normal.’ It starts with a public bank.

    May 26, 2021

    Massachusetts is less than a week away from lifting its remaining COVID-19 businesses restrictions. But even as companies emerge from more than a year of immense losses and pandemic-induced rules, leaders in the local Black business community aren’t looking forward to a return to normal...So, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, or BECMA, unveiled a policy agenda last week for a post-pandemic “new normal” in the hopes of ensuring communities of color not only bounce back but also close those existing racial gaps...Without having to maximize profits for shareholders, advocates say the government-run institution could help meet a currently unfulfilled need for capital estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars in Massachusetts. “The commonwealth really is leaving money on the table,” said Christine Desan, a professor at Harvard Law School...Going forward, Desan says the bank could also help generate revenue in addition to the return on loan interest rates. “What’s fascinating about a public bank is, if you can actually spark and support economic development in a city, the returns are not just the returns on their own bit they’re also returns — because the communities begin to prosper — of more tax revenue,” she said.

  • ‘Deeply Unlawful’: Harvard Law School Faculty Condemn Trump’s Response to Police Brutality Protests

    June 8, 2020

    Members of the Harvard Law School faculty published an open letter to students and Harvard affiliates Monday criticizing President Donald J. Trump for calling for a military response to ongoing protests against police brutality. The letter received signatures from 160 faculty members, including former Law School Dean Martha L. Minow and former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha J. Power. It was reopened for signatures on June 2 after requests from additional Law School teaching faculty and law librarians. The authors of the letter denounced a tweet posted by Trump on May 29 which included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reference to nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. They argue the president’s language encourages violence by private citizens. “By legitimating lawless action by public officials, the President’s tweet invites other individuals to take similarly destructive action,” the letter reads. The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Law School professor Christine A. Desan, who worked on drafting the letter, said Trump’s tweet signified a commitment to using violence against citizens involved in the protest. She said she finds the message problematic since Trump speaks as the Commander in Chief of the Army. “We don't under our Constitution live in a society where even if somebody is stealing something they get shot,” she said. “To have him pledge to use excessive state violence against people indiscriminately is really unlawful — deeply unlawful.”

  • protest

    HLS professors and other associates condemn President Trump’s statements about recent protests

    June 7, 2020

    In an open letter to the community, Harvard Law School professors and other associates condemn President Trump’s statements about recent protests

  • 65 Harvard Law Professors Condemn Trump’s Response To Protests Over George Floyd Killing

    June 3, 2020

    Sixty-five Harvard law professors have condemned President Trump's actions in response to protests over the killing of George Floyd. In a letter, the professors say the president's tweet saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," commits federal authority in a way that violates the law. Harvard law professor Christine Desan signed the letter and also denounced the president's threat to deploy the military to quell protests. "One message I hope the letter sends is to remind us all that the Army — and for that matter the police forces — are not his army," Desan said. "It's not Trump's army that he’s deploying. It’s our army, our military, and we have the right and responsibility to make sure that that military is used responsibly." The letter was addressed to Harvard law students.

  • MMT and Why Historians Need to Reclaim Studying Money

    April 1, 2019

    MMT (Modern Monetary Theory—a form of post-Keynesian economics) is everywhere these days. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders embrace it; Paul Krugman and George Will write about it; the Financial Times, Forbes, and The Economist have all run columns about it. Even the men’s parenting website Fatherly had an article on it. Do historians have anything to add?  ...MT, along with the euro crisis and awareness of  austerity’s social effects, has done much to open monetary and fiscal debates to wider audiences. Simply recognizing that money is political and historical (central, as Harvard Law Professor Christine Desan likes to say, to how a polity constitutes itself) is a difficult breakthrough for most people. On the other hand, seeing money in this way doesn’t—in a fractured polity characterized by demagoguery and high levels of inequality—make policy any easier to write or implement.

  • Money as a Democratic Medium 4

    Money as a Democratic Medium

    January 11, 2019

    Harvard’s recent two-day conference, “Money as a Democratic Medium,” challenged its participants to re-examine the history of money in America, and to redefine its future.

  • Money as a Democratic Medium: A Q&A with Christine Desan

    Money as a Democratic Medium: A Q&A with Christine Desan

    January 11, 2019

    Christine Desan, the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, organized the conference, “Money as a Democratic Medium,” a two-day event that challenged its participants to re-examine the history of money in America, and to redefine its future.

  • 25 Harvard Law Profs Sign NYT Op-Ed Demanding Senate Reject Kavanaugh

    October 4, 2018

    Roughly two dozen Harvard Law School professors have signed a New York Times editorial arguing that the United States Senate should not confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Harvard affiliates — including former Law School Dean Martha L. Minow and Laurence Tribe — joined more than 1,000 law professors across the country in signing the editorial, published online Wednesday. The professors wrote that Kavanaugh displayed a lack of “impartiality and judicial temperament requisite to sit on the highest court of our land” in the heated testimony he gave during a nationally televised hearing held Sept. 27 in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee....As of late Wednesday, the letter had been signed by the following: Sabi Ardalan, Christopher T. Bavitz, Elizabeth Bartholet, Christine Desan, Susan H. Farbstein, Nancy Gertner, Robert Greenwald, Michael Gregory, Janet Halley, Jon Hanson, Adriaan Lanni, Bruce H. Mann, Frank Michelman, Martha Minow, Robert H. Mnookin, Intisar Rabb, Daphna Renan, David L. Shapiro, Joseph William Singer, Carol S. Steiker, Matthew C. Stephenson, Laurence Tribe, Lucie White, Alex Whiting, Jonathan Zittrain

  • On the Bookshelf: HLS Library Book Talks, Spring 2018 2

    On the Bookshelf: HLS Library Book Talks, Spring 2018

    August 9, 2018

    The Harvard Law School Library hosted a series of book talks by HLS authors, with topics including Authoritarianism in America, the Supreme Court of India, and Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict. As part of this ongoing series, faculty authors from various disciplines shared their research and discussed their recently published books with a panel of colleagues and the Harvard Law community.

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    Faculty Books in Brief: Summer 2018

    June 25, 2018

    HLS Professor Mnookin, who for many years chaired the school’s Program on Negotiation, joins two other Harvard-affiliated professors in a study of the former secretary of state’s public and private deal-making, based on extensive interviews with Henry Kissinger on negotiation strategy and tactics.

  • Concern over a DACA deadline

    Concern over a DACA deadline

    February 28, 2018

    Three Harvard professors and a Ph.D. student in African and African American studies have launched the DACA Seminar, a series of events on campus aimed at sparking conversations about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and immigration policy and reform, while working to understand options available to Harvard's undocumented students.

  • Open Letter: We Condemn President Trump’s Incitement of Violence

    December 12, 2017

    To our students and the wider HLS community, We write to condemn a series of acts by President Trump that incite violence and are inconsistent with a democratic legal order. On November 29th, the President circulated unverified videos that explicitly vilified members of a religious community as dangerous. In his tweet, the videos appeared without any comment, context, or explanation, as if the fact that they concerned “Muslim” actors itself established their relevance. In that way, the videos justified hostility towards individuals on the ground of their faith alone. The President’s message further endorsed violence insofar as it expressly retweeted, thus apparently approving, a source convicted of religiously aggravated harassment...Christine Desan, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, John Coates [and 78 more HLS faculty and administrators].

  • HLS Thinks Big 2017

    HLS thinks bigger than ever

    June 8, 2017

    Each May since 2011, Harvard Law School has presented "HLS Thinks Big," a TED Talks-style event that invites faculty members to present a "big idea" in front of an audience of faculty, students and staff.

  • Connecting beyond the classroom

    April 21, 2017

    More than 60 Harvard Law students and 27 HLS faculty members took over the typically quiet tables of the library reading room for the first “Notes and Comment” event.

  • Law School Professors Sign Letter Opposing Sessions Nomination

    January 6, 2017

    Sixteen Harvard Law School faculty members have joined thousands of other law professors across the country in signing a letter opposing Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination as United States Attorney General... Law School professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who signed the letter, said Sessions’s record on voting rights, especially for minorities, is deeply troubling to him. “The aim of the letter is to raise the significant issues about voting, which is fundamental to our democratic experiment and, once these issues are raised, we hope that the committee and the citizenry in general would not support this nominee,” Sullivan said. “We certainly think that, party affiliation aside, no Attorney General should have taken such a radical view about voting rights laws.”

  • A Two-Way Street

    November 3, 2016

    ...In one way or another, Harvard Law professors helped shape Obama’s legacy. But the relationship between the Law School and the next president has yet to be defined. A trove of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, leaked by Wikileaks in October, show that a few Law professors have caught the campaign’s attention. And Clinton’s campaign has contacted at least one about serving in her administration if she wins next Tuesday. There is no indication that Trump’s campaign has contacted any Law professors. “I think law is about policy choices so by definition we are always involved in policy choices,” Law professor Christine A. Desan said, referring to her fellow faculty members...fewer Law School faculty members are actively and openly advising either candidate in this election—a noticeable shift from previous elections, said Law Professor and former U.S. Solicitor General Charles Fried.

  • Christine Desan, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism

    August 25, 2015

    Christine Desan, teaches about the international monetary system, the constitutional law of money, constitutional history, political economy, and legal theory at Harvard Law School. In this podcast we discuss her new book, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2015). Per the books jacket, "Money travels the modern world in disguise. It looks like a convention of human exchange – a commodity like gold or a medium like language. But its history reveals that money is a very different matter. It is an institution engineered by political communities to mark and mobilize resources. As societies change the way they create money, they change the market itself – along with the rules that structure it, the politics and ideas that shape it, and the benefits that flow from it.

  • New face for the $10 bill

    June 26, 2015

    ...Putting the face of a woman on a U.S. banknote is a symbolic step that will have a seismic impact, said Professor Christine Desan of the Law School. Desan, who has studied money going back to the Middle Ages, said that the face on a bill “reflects the kind of sovereignty that the community recognizes.” In monarchies the likenesses of kings and queens regularly appear on currency. In the United States, aside from Hamilton and the inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin, the serious, green-tinted faces of select presidents stare back at you. For Desan, who will spend the next year at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study working on her forthcoming book, “Designing Money in Early America: Experiments in Political Economy (1680–1775),” the change announced by Lew represents a “radical step.”

  • The Home Economist tells you how to spot a scam

    June 22, 2015

    ...The idea of money generating trust — rather than perhaps a decay of human morals — is a long-time mantra for Corey. But it’s now proven true in a series of economic experiments. When researchers at Chapman University created two economies in a lab — one in which the entire fabricated society would benefit by giving away valuables and another relying on a currency for such exchanges — it was the paying-people who were willing to trust new people...And while money is most certainly empowering and important, says Christine Desan, a Leo Gottlieb law professor at Harvard University, it’s still necessary for societies to manage relationships with money. One stark example is the unmonitored lending policies that, in part, led to the national real estate crash. And societies might do well restricting certain transactions — such as limiting political contributions, she says. “It’s not an ‘on-off’ switch, she says. “Once you have a public resource to make exchanges, there are many decisions on how to design and manage it.”

  • Radcliffe Fellows for 2015-2016 Announced

    May 15, 2015

    The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has announced its fellows for 2015-2016. The more than 50 men and women include creative artists, humanists, scientists, and social scientists, each pursuing “an ambitious individual project within the Institute’s multidisciplinary community.”...Twelve of the new fellows are Harvard faculty members; their names and the titles of their projects appear below....Christine A. Desan, professor of law, whose teaching covers the international monetary system, the constitutional law of money, constitutional history, political economy, and legal theory. She is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on the Study of Capitalism...Annette Gordon-Reed, professor of law and of history, Pforzheimer professor at the Radcliffe Institute, whose 2008 book The Hemingses of Monticello won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for nonfiction...Intisar A. Rabb, professor of law and director of Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program, who studies criminal law, legislation and theories of statutory interpretation, and Islamic law.

  • Explaining ‘Capital:’ In HLS visit, economist Thomas Piketty discusses his landmark text (video)

    March 18, 2015

    It’s been just a year since Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” turned the respected French economist from the University of Paris into an academic and publishing rock star. Piketty’s status showed little sign of fading during his March 6 visit to Harvard to speak about the book before an overflow crowd inside Austin Hall at Harvard Law School.

  • Explaining ‘Capital’

    March 11, 2015

    It’s been just a year since Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” turned the respected French economist from the University of Paris into an academic and publishing rock star. Few could have imagined that a nearly 700-page text tracing wealth and income-distribution patterns in 20 countries as far back as the French Revolution would become a worldwide million-plus seller...Piketty’s status showed little sign of fading during his March 6 visit to Harvard to speak about the book before an overflow crowd inside Austin Hall at Harvard Law School...Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of American History in the Faculty Arts & Sciences (FAS), Christine Desan, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at HLS, David Kennedy, Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at HLS, and Stephen Marglin, Walter S. Baker Chair in the Department of Economics, later offered assessments of Piketty’s work.

  • Means of exchange

    February 12, 2015

    Money may feel as solid as the Bank of England, but it is an ever-shifting phenomenon...But in a new book, “Making Money”, Christine Desan, a Harvard law professor, challenges the view of money’s history as a fall from grace. She is part of the “cartalist” school which argues that money did not develop spontaneously from below, but was imposed from above by the state or ruler.

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    The Long View

    October 1, 2012

    As two HLS graduates are vying to lead the United States, we asked six legal historians on the faculty to reflect on the connections between legal education and leadership.

  • Making Money

    December 6, 2011

    In her study of money in law, Professor Christine Desan has found herself looking back as far as medieval times. But in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, in large part caused by liquidity problems—money oversupplied and then frozen in credit markets—her historical scholarship has led her to insights into today’s economic predicaments.

  • Recent Faculty Books – Fall 2014

    November 21, 2010

    In his essays, Samuel Moyn considers topics such as human rights and the Holocaust, international courts, and liberal internationalism. Skeptical of humanitarian justifications for intervention, he writes,“[H]uman rights history should turn away from ransacking the past as if it provided good support for the astonishingly specific international movement of the last few decades.”