Making Markets: Opportunism and Restraint on Wall Street

Overview

In the wake of million-dollar scandals brought about by Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, and their like, Wall Street seems like the province of rampant individualism operating at the outermost extremes of self-interest and greed. But this, Mitchel Abolafia suggests, would be a case of missing the real culture of the Street for the characters who dominate the financial news.

Making Markets, an ethnography of Wall Street culture, offers a more complex picture of how the market and its...

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Overview

In the wake of million-dollar scandals brought about by Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, and their like, Wall Street seems like the province of rampant individualism operating at the outermost extremes of self-interest and greed. But this, Mitchel Abolafia suggests, would be a case of missing the real culture of the Street for the characters who dominate the financial news.

Making Markets, an ethnography of Wall Street culture, offers a more complex picture of how the market and its denizens work. Not merely masses of individuals striving independently, markets appear here as socially constructed institutions in which the behavior of traders is suspended in a web of customs, norms, and structures of control. Within these structures we see the actions that led to the Drexel Burnham and Salomon Brothers debacles not as bizarre aberrations, but as mere exaggerations of behavior accepted on the Street.

Abolafia looks at three subcultures that co-exist in the world of Wall Street: the stock, bond, and futures markets. Through interviews, anecdotes, and the author's skillful analysis, we see how traders and New York Stock Exchange "specialists" negotiate the perpetual tension between short-term self-interest and long-term self-restraint that marks their respective communities—and how the temptation toward excess spurs market activity. We also see the complex relationships among those market communities—why, for instance, NYSE specialists resent the freedoms permitted over-the-counter bond traders and futures traders. Making Markets shows us that what propels Wall Street is not a fundamental human drive or instinct, but strategies enacted in the context of social relationships, cultural idioms, and institutions—a cycle that moves between phases of unbridled self-interest and collective self-restraint.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Evans
Mitchel Abolafia's fascinating...book...is a great take on the other side of world finance, on life's most bruising sport—making money—and on how to think about markets as interdependent social structures.
Contemporary Sociology
Ruben Lee
[This is] a great must-read. Abolafia's central thesis is that markets cannot be viewed simply as anonymous fora where nameless economic forces work their mysterious ways to determine equilibrium price-quantity outcomes. Instead, they are better seen as stages on which diverse groups of actors seek to further their own, often conflicting, interests...The view that markets are social constructs has a particularly significant consequence for understanding and reacting to the phenomenon of manipulation. Abolafia's view that manipulation 'arises out of a conflict between buyers and sellers where one side is pressing its advantage', rather than being either a legal definition or an economic phenomenon, is extremely convincing...It is impossibly infuriating that one's assumptions about how the financial world works should be overturned by a mere sociologist.
London Financial News [UK]
Contemporary Sociology
Mitchel Abolafia's fascinating...book...is a great take on the other side of world finance, on life's most bruising sport--making money--and on how to think about markets as interdependent social structures.
— Peter Evans
London Financial News
[This is] a great must-read. Abolafia's central thesis is that markets cannot be viewed simply as anonymous fora where nameless economic forces work their mysterious ways to determine equilibrium price-quantity outcomes. Instead, they are better seen as stages on which diverse groups of actors seek to further their own, often conflicting, interests...The view that markets are social constructs has a particularly significant consequence for understanding and reacting to the phenomenon of manipulation. Abolafia's view that manipulation 'arises out of a conflict between buyers and sellers where one side is pressing its advantage', rather than being either a legal definition or an economic phenomenon, is extremely convincing...It is impossibly infuriating that one's assumptions about how the financial world works should be overturned by a mere sociologist.
— Ruben Lee
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674543249
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.21 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Mitchel Y. Abolafia is Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Market Makers on Wall Street 1
1 Homo Economicus Unbound: Bond Traders on Wall Street 14
2 Structured Anarchy: Formal and Informal Organization in the Futures Market 38
3 Taming the Market: Conflict Resolution among Market Makers 64
4 Responding to External Threats 80
5 Homo Economicus Restrained: Identity and Control at the New York Stock Exchange 103
6 Coping with the Threat of Extinction 129
7 Opportunism and Innovation: An Interpretation of the Milken Drama 152
8 Cycles of Opportunism: Profits, Prudence, and the Public Interest 168
Notes 195
Index 213
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