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From the PublisherFutures trading has always represented the best and worst sides of the economy. On the one hand, it is the epitome of commercial progress: Property rights have become so secure and technology so advanced that traders can confidently risk huge sums on small changes in commodity prices. The hedge against risk these creative traders provide allows companies to fine-tune their own products in ways that maximize the benefits to consumers.
On the other hand, traders face extraordinary temptations to manipulate their markets, because what they buy and sell is information, far removed from the products it represents and yet easily converted into real cash. The result, as charted in this detailed but nonanalytical history, has been an ongoing seesaw between self-regulation and government intervention. The maturing economy has tamed the "cowboy" proclivities of traders a bit; still, corrupt traders now have the potential to disrupt the broad economy in ways undreamed of in earlier decades. The entrepreneurial drama continues. (Harvard Business Review, December 2002)