Centennial Speaker Series: Zachary Karabell on Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power
07 14 2021 - 07 14 2021
Conspiracy theories have always swirled around Brown Brothers Harriman, and not without reason. Throughout the 19th century, when America was convulsed by a devastating financial panic essentially every 20 years, Brown Brothers quietly went from strength to strength, propping up the U.S. financial system at crucial moments and catalyzing successive booms, from the cotton trade and the steamship to the railroad, while largely managing to avoid the unwelcome attention that plagued some of its competitors. By the turn of the 20th century, Brown Brothers was unquestionably at the heart of what was meant by an “American Establishment.” As America’s reach extended beyond its shores, Brown Brothers worked hand in glove with the State Department, notably in Nicaragua in the early 20th century, where the firm essentially took over the country’s economy. To the Brown family, the virtue of their dealings was a given; their form of muscular Protestantism, forged on the playing fields of Groton and Yale, was the acme of civilization, and it was their duty to import that civilization to the world.
In Inside Money, acclaimed historian, commentator, and former financial executive Zachary Karabell offers the first full and frank look inside this institution against the backdrop of American history. Provided with complete access to the company’s archives, as well as a thrilling understanding of the larger forces at play, Karabell has created an X-ray of American power—financial, political, cultural—as it has evolved from the early 1800s to the present. Today, unlike many of its competitors, Brown Brothers Harriman remains a private partnership and a beacon of sustainable capitalism, having forgone the heady speculative upsides of the past 30 years but also having avoided any role in the devastating downsides. The firm is no longer in the command capsule of the American economy, but, arguably, that is to its credit. If its partners cleaved to any one adage over the generations, it is that a relentless pursuit of more can destroy more than it creates.
About the Speakers
Zachary Karabell was educated at Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. He is a prolific commentator, both in print and on television, and the author of a dozen previous books, including The Last Campaign, which won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, and The Leading Indicators. He is also a longtime investor, former financial services executive, and the founder of the Progress Network.
Copies of Inside Money will be raffled off to attendees.
This event is co-sponsored with the CFA Society New York, the Gabelli Center for Global Security Analysis, and the Museum of American Finance.