Skip to content

All faculty

Christine A. Desan

Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law

Christine A. Desan
Download image

Christine Desan teaches about the political economy of capitalism, the constitutional law of money, the international monetary system, constitutional history, and legal theory. Her research explores money as a legal and political project, one that configures the market it sets out to measure. In Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2014), she argues that a radical change in money’s design introduced modern capitalism: the government delegated money creation to private investors. That change institutionalized the profit motive as the engine of the political economy and privileged credit allocation by banks, which distribute the money supply as they expand it. She explores the ramifications of those shifts in subsequent publications, including “How to Spend a Trillion Dollars: Our Monetary Hardwiring, Why It Matters, and What We Should Do About It,” “Money’s Design Elements: Debt, Liquidity, and the Pledge of Value from Medieval Coin to Modern “Repo”,” Banking & Fin. L. Rev. 38 (forthcoming 2022), “The Key to Value: The Debate over Commensurability in Neoclassical and Credit Approaches to Money,” 83 Law and Contemporary Problems (2020); and “The Constitutional Approach to Money: Monetary Design and the Production of the Modern World,” in Money Talks: Essays in Honor of Viviana Zelizer, Bandelj and Wherry, eds., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).

Desan is the founder and managing editor of, a website that explores money as a critical site of governance. She also co-founded Harvard’s Program on the Study of Capitalism, an interdisciplinary project designed to bring together classes, resources, research funds, and advising aimed at exploring that topic. With its co-director, Prof. Sven Beckert (History), she taught the Program’s anchoring research seminar, the Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism, from 2005 to 2015. Desan is on the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Public Banking and co-authored legislation that would establish a state bank designed to reach borrowers in marginalized communities, cities and towns, enterprises aimed at climate change, and other underserved ends.

Desan was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during the 2015-2016 academic year and at the Massachusetts Historical Society in the fall of 2016. She is on the Board of the Institute for Global Law and Policy, is a faculty member of the Program on American Studies at Harvard University, and has served on the editorial board for the Law and History Review and as an advisory editor of Eighteenth Century Studies. In Brookline, MA, Desan served for 10 years on a town committee that researched and drafted legislation promoting campaign finance reform, and that supervised that reform once it was enacted.