An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets

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In An Engine, Not a Camera, Donald MacKenzie argues that the emergence of modern economic theories of finance affected financial markets in fundamental ways.

These new, Nobel Prize-winning theories, based on elegant mathematical models of markets, were not simply external analyses but intrinsic parts of economic processes. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, MacKenzie says that economic models are an engine of inquiry rather than a camera to reproduce empirical facts. More than that,the emergence of an authoritative theory of financial markets altered those markets fundamentally. For example, in 1970, there was almost no trading in financial derivatives such as "futures." By June of 2004, derivatives contracts totaling $273 trillion were outstanding worldwide. MacKenzie suggests that this growth could never have happened without the development of theories that gave derivatives legitimacy and explained their complexities. MacKenzie examines the role played by finance theory in the two most serious crises to hit the world's financial markets in recent years: the stock market crash of 1987 and the market turmoil that engulfed the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998. He also looks at finance theory that is somewhat beyond the mainstream — chaos theorist Benoit Mandelbrot's model of "wild" randomness. MacKenzie's pioneering work in the social studies of finance will interest anyone who wants to understand how America's financial markets have grown into their current form.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A brilliant, extremely lucid account of the connections between financial economics and the development of futures, options, and derivatives markets between the 1950s and 2001." Neil Fligstein American Journal of Sociology
Lawrence Hunter authoritative biography...a compelling -- and rarely flattering -- picture....Much more than a history of computing, his book is an engaging story of a titanic personality at the dawn of the information age.
NY Times Book Review
Harry R. Lewis
The biography, and its companion, Makin' Numbers, a collection of essays and retrospectives by Aiken's contemporaries, guarantee that the Aiken lore will not be lost. But they provide much more. These books are based on interviews with Aiken and his contemporaries, on many early reports and other documents, and to some degree on Cohen's personal knowledge of Aiken from the time when Cohen, now Thomas professor for the history of science emeritus, started to teach at Harvard... These books document the explosion of novelties in the Comp Lab at a time when almost nothing was known about computing, and have done us a great service by preserving, fondly but dispassionately and exhaustively, the memory of Aiken and those who worked with him.
Harvard Magazine, May/June 1999
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262633673
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2008
  • Series: Inside Technology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 1,523,066
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald MacKenzie is Professor of Sociology (Personal Chair) at the University of Edinburgh. His books include Inventing Accuracy (1990),Knowing Machines (1996), and Mechanizing Proof (2001), all published by the MIT Press. Portions of An Engine, not a Camera won the Viviana A. Zelizer Prize in economic sociology from the American Sociological Association.

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Table of Contents

The Names "ASCC" and "Mark I"
1 Introduction to a Pioneer 1
2 Early Life and Education 9
3 A Harvard Graduate Student 21
4 First Steps Toward a New Type of Calculating Machine 33
5 An Unsuccessful Attempt to Get the Machine Built 39
6 Seeking Support from IBM 45
7 The Proposal for an Automatic Calculating Machine 53
8 Aiken's Background in Computing and Knowledge of Babbage's Machines 61
9 Planning and Beginning the Construction of the Machine 73
10 How to Perform Multiplication and Division by Machine 87
11 Construction of the Machine 95
12 Installing the ASCC/Mark I in Cambridge and Transferring It to the Navy 109
13 Aiken at the Naval Mine Warfare School 115
14 The Dedication 121
15 The Aftermath 131
16 Some Features of Mark I 147
17 Programming and Staffing, Wartime Operation, and the Implosion Computations 159
18 The Mystery of the Number 23 169
19 Tables of Bessel Functions 177
20 Aiken's Harvard Program in Computer Science 185
21 Later Relations between Aiken and IBM 197
22 Aiken at Harvard, 1945-1961 201
23 Life in the Comp Lab 215
24 Retirement from Harvard 227
25 Businessman and Consultant 231
26 A Summing Up 237
App. A The Harvard News Release 249
App. B Aiken's Talk at the Dedication 253
App. C Aiken's Memorandum Describing the Harvard Computation Laboratory 263
App. D The Stored Program and the Binary Number System 269
App. E Aiken's Three Later Machines 275
App. F How Many Computers Are Needed? 283
App. G The NSF Computer Tree 295
App. H Who Invented the Computer? Was Mark I a Computer? 297
App. I The Harvard Computation Laboratory during the 1950s 305
Sources 309
Index 325
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