The 2007 financial crisis should be seen as an opportunity to humanize the financial services industry, Hirokazu Miyazaki, professor of anthropology at Cornell University, said Wednesday at a talk titled “The Gift of the Global Financial Crisis.”
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During the two-hour lecture, Miyazaki focused on the conclusion of his forthcoming book, “Arbitraging Japan: Traders as Critics of Capitalism,” for which he spent more than 10 years researching derivatives trading at a major Japanese securities firm.
Financial logic can be applied and connected to the entire world, Miyazaki said, adding that the 2007 financial crisis confirmed that conclusion. It also gives the world a reason to make the financial services industry more humanistic and realistic, he said.
Derivative trading is a specific branch of the economy dealing with “an agreement between two people or parties that has a value determined by the price of something else,” he said.
Miyazaki said finance, especially derivatives trading, has ties to the occult, hypnosis and predictions, partially due to the fact that derivatives trading is such an abstract and intangible activity, he said.
“The logic of finance can be productive and self-cancelling,” says Miyazaki. “It can seem like everything is arbitrage and nothing is arbitrage.”
Miyazaki said Japan was the ideal location for his research because its financial culture was less bonus-centric than Wall Street. As a result, he said, the derivatives traders focused less on the money they were making and more on the logic behind their work. He said he concluded from his research that policy makers should take a more anthropological view of humanity as they rebuild the financial system.
More specifically, Miyazaki said legislators should consult traders and other financial experts about future financial reforms.
“We ought to enlist them in our debate about what to do with financial markets and their regulation instead of treating them as inherently greedy people we need to control,” says Miyazaki. This hopeful perspective is essential to Miyazaki’s belief in the “gift” of the financial crisis.
About a dozen people joined Miyazaki in Yale’s Department of Anthropology on Sachem Street for the talk. Four attendees said the talk was thought-provoking, but difficult to understand.
Miyazaki began researching the anthropological effects of finance and trading after receiving his doctorate in anthropology in 1998 from Australian National University.