The New School for Social Research


  • Julia Ott

    Director of Undergraduate Studies, History

    Office Location:

    80 Fifth Avenue


    During my lifetime, American political culture has been distinguished by a pervasive belief that individual freedom is best guaranteed by freedom of the market. Since the Reagan Revolution, the collective solutions that once nurtured the American middle class – including labor unions along with government and corporate-sponsored social provisions – have come under fire for impeding the dynamic individualism of American capitalism. Government withdrew from the realm of social protection and provision. De-regulation and privatization and de-regulation reigned supreme in domestic economic policy. As a result, inequality increased while the economic well-being of American households was yoked ever more tightly to increasingly unregulated financial markets. Stock prices came to be perceived as a real-time referendum on both corporate and national economic performance.

    The assumption that self-governing financial markets and expert financial actors distribute resources efficiently and allocate risk to those best able to bear it encouraged the free-wheeling securitization and regulatory laxity which torpedoed the economy in 2008. In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, even those that labored to reform the financial system continued to adhere to the axiom that financial markets and institutions constitute the bedrock of American capitalism.

    Today, few ask why so much faith was placed in finance as the engine of economic growth and stability in the first place. Rabid reactions against all attempts to repair the frayed social safety net reveal the tenacity of anti-government, pro-business sentiment among the American public.

    The “neo-liberal” political-economic beliefs of the last thirty-odd years stand in marked contrast with the great reform movements of American history, which sought to reign in rampaging capitalism. Further, they repudiate the political-economic regime of the post-World War II period, a modern liberalism grounded in mass purchasing power, the self-financing corporation, the welfare state, and Keynesian economic policy.

    How can history help us account for this generation’s rather unique faith in laissez-faire? This is the question that motivates me most as a researcher and as a teacher.

    Degrees Held:

    PhD 2007, Yale University

    Recent Publications:

    • "Solving the ‘Debt Question’,” New Labor Forum vol. 22 no. 1 (Spring 2013), co-authored with Louis Hyman
    • “Lessons From History: Is America Heading Toward Bankruptcy?” White Paper for ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos, August 19, 2012:
    • When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors’ Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2011)
    • “‘The Free and Open People’s Market’: Political Ideology and Retail Brokerage at the New York Stock Exchange, 1913-1933,” Journal of American History vol. 96 no. 1 (June 2009): 44-71.
    • “When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors’ Democracy and the Emergence of the Retail Investor in the United States, 1890-1930,” Enterprise and Society vol. 9 no. 4 (December 2008): 619-630.


    Research Interests:

    20th century American history, financial and business history, political conservatism, consumer culture, women's and gender history


    Awards and Honors:

    • Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar, New York City, 2009-2010
    • Interdisciplinary Seminar Grant, Tobin Project, 2009-2010
    • Finalist, Krooss Prize for the Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference, 2008
    • Miller Center Fellowship in Contemporary History, Policy, and Politics, University of Virginia, 2005-06
    • John E. Rovensky Fellowship in American Economic and Business History, 2004-05
    • Whitebox Advisors Behavioral Finance Fellowship, Yale School of Management, 2004-05