Lynn A. Stout


A wide variety of statutory and common law doctrines in American law evidence hostility towards speculation. Conventional economic theory, however, generally views speculation as an efficient form of trading that shifts risk to those who can bear it most easily and improves the accuracy of market prices. This Article reconciles the apparent conflict between legal tradition and economic theory by explaining why some forms of speculative trading may be inefficient. It presents a heterogeneous expectations model of speculative trading that offers important insights into antispeculation laws in general, and the ongoing debate concerning over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives in particular. Although trading in OTC derivatives is presently largely unregulated, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently announced its intention to consider substantively regulating OTC derivatives under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA). Because the CEA is at heart an antispeculation law, the heterogeneous expectations model of speculation offers policy support for the CFTC's claim of regulatory jurisdiction. This model also, however, suggests an alternative to the apparently binary choice now available to lawmakers (i. e., either regulate OTC derivatives under the CEA, or exempt them). That alternative would be to regulate OTC derivatives in the same manner that the common law traditionally regulated speculative contracts: as permitted, but legally unenforceable, agreements. By requiring derivatives traders to rely on private ordering to ensure the performance of their agreements, this strategy may offer significant advantages in discouraging welfare-reducing speculation based on heterogeneous expectations while protecting more beneficial forms of derivatives trading.

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