Speculative Boundaries: Chicago and the regulatory history of U.S. financial derivative markets

Chris Muellerleile

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
274 Downloads (Pure)


This article considers the history of governance and speculation on U.S. derivative markets from their emergence in the middle of the 19th Century through their incursion into finance in the late 20th Century. It explores the importance of derivatives’ extended ancestry in agricultural markets before analyzing their entanglement with financial markets, which came much later in the 1970s and 1980s. The paper is particularly concerned with the institutional inheritance of a set of legal-regulatory boundaries that prioritized price-making and the speculative trading that was necessary to produce a consistent flow of prices. This governance system for derivatives is set in contrast with the governance of securities markets, which during the 1930s became subject to more strict government oversight particularly with regard to speculative trading. The legal boundaries between these two markets began to deteriorate in the 1970s when the Chicago derivative exchanges applied the speculative logic of agricultural derivative markets to financial instruments. The implications of this are two-fold. First the article argues that market mechanisms and market regulation are ontologically inseparable, and ought to be studied as such. Second, employing this approach, the article argues that U.S. financial derivative markets are originally “derivative” not of New York and the finance sector, but of Chicago and the agricultural sector.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1805-1823
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number9
Early online date4 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


  • Chicago
  • Markets
  • Futures
  • Derivatives
  • Finance
  • Regulation
  • Legal Geography
  • Commodity Futures Trading Comission


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