Rethinking Capitalism conference examines illusion of safety nets

Stephen Bruce
Stephen Bruce, founder of the Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism.
Professor Bob Meister
Professor Bob Meister, director of the Bruce Initiative.
Horace "Woody" Brock
Horace "Woody" Brock, founder of Strategic Economic Decisions, will kick off the conference  with Bruce and Meister Thursday, April 7.
The second annual Rethinking Capitalism conference, April 7-9 at UC Santa Cruz, will investigate the social systems that help prop up and preserve capitalism in the aftermath of the crisis of 2008. The conference is free and open to the public.

The inaugural conference a year ago, sponsored by the Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism, focused on derivatives, the esoteric financial instruments that helped drive the economy to the brink of failure.

"Now we’re drilling down," said Stephen Bruce, founder of the Bruce Initiative. "This year we will look at social systems and questions of distribution and allocation."

Bob Meister, director of the Bruce Initiative and UCSC professor of political and social thought, said post-crisis analysis has so far focused on what went wrong. The question remains, and this is the conference theme: "What do we do now that we know how fragile capital markets are," Meister asked. "Do we have to pay any price to prop up a system that we know can't last forever?"

The social systems and their efficacy under examination include taxpayer subsidies such as stimulus financing, benefits, pensions, and welfare, also government regulation.

Examining those questions over two days of presentations, panels, and roundtables will be an international slate of legal experts, economists, anthropologists, accountants, theologians, and even Kim Stanley Robinson, a science fiction author known for his Mars trilogy, a look at settlements on Mars after Earth's destruction. 

Who better than a science fiction writer to imagine what might happen after the financial and environmental apocalypse that would follow the collapse of capitalism, Meister said. 

Headlining Thursday night's opening session "Framing the Crisis: Policy and Theory," along with Bruce and Meister, is Horace "Woody" Brock, founder and president of Strategic Economic Decisions, a leading analyst in the economics of uncertainty, who regularly consults with corporations, central banks, and government administrations.

The keynote panel includes Lynn Stout, professor of corporate and securities law at UCLA law school and a regular commentator on the PBS Newshour; Graham Ward, professor of theology and ethics at the University of Manchester; and science fiction author Robinson.

Bruce said a key premise of the conference is to bring together a group of leading thinkers and give them the opportunity to forge new collaborations and initiatives. "Instead of looking backward, why not turn these guys loose," he said.

That approach worked with the inaugural conference. "Last year was a huge success," Bruce said. "We hope to pull it off again."

Bruce is a UC Santa Cruz economics graduate who went on to a successful career in international asset management.  He founded the Bruce Initiative at UC Santa Cruz because of its interdisciplinary approach to probing critical social and economic issues in unconventional ways.

Rethinking Capitalism is co-sponsored by the Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism, the UCSC Division of Social Sciences, UCSC Institute for Humanities Research, and Colleges 9/10.

A complete schedule of participants and panels may be found at