Harvard Law School’s Project on Law and Mind Sciences held its third annual conference, “The Free Market Mindset: History, Psychology, and Consequences,” on March 7.
Close to 200 people attended the daylong event at HLS, bringing together leading scholars in law, economics, social psychology and social cognition to discuss their research on the historical origins, psychological antecedents and policy consequences of the free market mindset.
According to HLS Professor Jon Hanson, director of the school’s Project on Law and Mind Sciences, the conference’s topic was originally intended to be moral psychology, but after the market collapse in October, organizers decided that free market ideology was too important to ignore.
“We did not anticipate the extent to which this topic would be as salient today as it is,” said Hanson.
Hanson said he hoped the conference would be an opportunity to examine the free market mindset in light of where we are, to explore why free markets have been so alluring to economists, scholars and policymakers, even amidst the current financial turmoil.
In a lunchtime keynote address, Judge Richard Posner ’62, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, offered remarks focusing on the “current depression,” based on his forthcoming book “A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression,” due out from Harvard University Press in May.
In his own talk, titled “Regulation Reactance,” Hanson tested his theory that there are certain policy stereotypes ingrained in American culture. Through the use of advertising clips and snippets of political speeches, he showed that Americans tend to try to establish a freedom to choose when they perceive that their liberty has been inhibited. In politics, this tends to mean that people think markets lead to freedom, and government regulation is coercive.
Hanson and his collaborators (including 3L Mark Yeboah) are currently studying these implicit policy associations and how they might affect policy recommendations.
Later in the spring, edited versions of videos from the conference will be made available on the Project on Law and Mind Sciences Web site (www.lawandmind.com). Hanson is also working with a group of 3Ls on a book, “Ideology, Psychology and Law,” which will include chapters discussing some of the themes from this year’s conference.