The Futures

The rise of the speculator and the origins of the world's biggest markets


By Emily Lambert
2009 PERC Media Fellow

The Futures tells the rich and dramatic story of the Chicago commodities exchanges, from the egg men of Fulton Street to the carbon traders who seek to transform the world (and make a quick buck while they do it). Forbes senior writer Emily Lambert details the emergence of the futures business as a meeting place for gamblers and farmers alike, and takes us inside the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, which together formed the original—and busiest—futures market in the world

Commodities exchanges have become some of the largest financial markets in our global economic system, yet the exchanges themselves and the speculators who help run them remain largely misunderstood, often reviled by a public that thinks they serve no useful function other than a kind of private gambling pool. Lambert takes us into the pits themselves and tells us the story of the men who make the exchanges work. But Lambert goes further than mere storytelling, showing how Wall Street's adoption of the futures contracts without Chicago's few simple rules and close-knit social bonds led to financial disaster. And she takes us behind the scenes of their ultimate transformation into a sophisticated electronic market where contracts are traded at lightning fast speeds.

The futures markets, Lamber argues are the real free markets. And speculators, far from being mere parasites, serve a vital economic and social function given the right architecture. The traditional futures market, she explains, because of its written and cultural limits, can serve as a useful example for how markets ought to work and become a tonic for our current financial ills.

Read a review in The Wall Street Journal

Basic Books
2300 Chestnut T., Suite 200
Philadelphia, PA 19103
2011; 226 pp.