Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM
Room 111 (Hynes Convention Center)
The Nature of the Market: Corners, Famines, and International Wheat Markets in the Late Nineteenth Century
The creation of a global market for wheat in the late nineteenth century required the permanent dismantling of long-standing traditional market protections in favor of free trade.The new global wheat marketpromised affordable and plentiful food to consumers and profits to producers. But this new market, characterized by complex and unfamiliar instruments such as futures trading, and dominated by new and highly specialized international trading conglomerates, seemed to amplify the effects of the age-old problem of the famine, while also being vulnerable to the machinations of wealthy gamblers and speculators.This paper will examine two phenomena that were part and parcel of the formation of international wheat markets in the 1890s: famines (in Russia and India) and market corners on the Chicago Board of Trade, and will showhow these perceived failures of the market were focal points for the articulation of competing visions of what international food markets should look like, what function they should serve, and what circumstances would allow the so-called natural functions of the market to provide fair prices and even distribution to its participants.