Friday, July 23, 2021
Professor Martin Edwards (Belmont University College of Law) and I are excited to moderate a discussion group titled, “A Very Online Economy: Meme Trading, Bitcoin, and the Crisis of Trust and Value(s)—How Should the Law Respond,” at the 2022 American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting. The discussion group is scheduled to take place (virtually) on Friday, January 7, 2022. We welcome responses to the call for participation (here). Here’s the description:
Emergent forces emanating from social and financial technologies are challenging many underlying assumptions about the workings of markets, the nature of firms, and our social relationship with our economic institutions. The 21st century economy and financial architecture are built on faith and trust in centralized institutions. Perhaps it is not surprising that in 2008, a time where that faith and trust waned, a different architecture called “blockchain” emerged. It promised “trustless” exchange, verifiable intermediation, and “decentralization” of value transfer.
In 2021, the financial architecture and its institutions suffered a broadside from socialmedia-fueled “meme” and “expressive” traders. It may not be a coincidence that many of these traders reached adulthood around 2008, when the crisis called into question whether that real money, those real securities, or that real, fundamental value were really real at all. People are engaging with questions about social values in an increasingly uneasy way. There is a flux not only in the substantive values, but also with what set of institutions people should trust to produce, disseminate, and enforce values.
One question is what role business corporations might play in this moment, which is being worked out most prominently through discussions about environmental and social governance (ESG). Social and financial technologies may be rewriting longstanding assumptions about social and economic institutions. Blockchains challenge our assumptions about the need for centralization, trust, and institutions, while meme or expressive trading and ESG challenge our assumptions about economic value, market processes, and social values.
It promises to be a great discussion!
Friday, July 9, 2021
I noted in a January post that Professor Mihailis E. Diamantis and I are joining Professors J. Kelly Strader, and Sandra D. Jordan as co-authors of the 4th edition of White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials, and Problems. I am pleased to announce that the text is now available for fall 2021 adoption, and instructors can request an electronic copy for immediate review here. Here is a description of the new edition:
White Collar Crime: Cases, Materials, and Problems is a unique, problems-focused approach to teaching and learning about federal white collar crime. The authors draw from their practice experience in prosecuting and defending white collar crime cases to present both foundational and current issues of law, policy, and theory as they arise in statutes and cases. The text includes:
- Comprehensive coverage of the substantive law of various white collar crimes (topics include conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud, computer crimes, bribery, extortion, perjury, false statements, obstruction of justice, tax fraud, currency transaction reporting crimes, money laundering, and RICO);
- Chapters dedicated to the practical and procedural issues that typically arise in, and often are unique to, white collar cases (topics include internal investigations, compliance programs, civil actions and fines, parallel proceedings, grand juries, Fifth Amendment, sentencing, and forfeitures); and
- Practice problems throughout to enhance both effective teaching and student comprehension through engagement.
For the fourth edition, the authors have continued their emphasis on the most recent, cutting-edge issues in white collar crime and litigation. They have added a number of recent United States Supreme Court and Circuit court decisions. The text expands its focus on policy and practical aspects of white collar practice, including the addition of many new practice problems and exercises.
Friday, June 25, 2021
35 Years Later: Greed Is Still Not Good, but It Is also Not a Good Justification for Imposing Criminal Liability
Now that the spring commencement address season has come to a close, I’ll take a moment to reflect on one of the most infamous commencement speeches in history. Thirty-five years ago, on May 18, 1986, Ivan Boesky addressed the graduating class of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In his speech, he famously claimed that
[g]reed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is really healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.
In response, James B. Stewart notes that the “crowd burst into spontaneous applause as students laughed and looked at each other knowingly.” Den of Thieves p.261 (1992). And why not? This was the 1980s, the “Decade of Greed” (see, e.g., here and here). Boesky’s claim garnered so much attention that it was famously paraphrased by the fictional Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s iconic 1987 movie, Wall Street.
But, of course, by definition greed is not good. As Aristotle explained, greed is a vice. It is the opposite of the virtue of generosity. The greedy are “shameful love[rs] of gain” who “go to excess in taking, by taking anything from any source.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Terence Irwin).
We often hear calls for criminal prosecution in response to rampant greed on Wall Street. For example, according to one California court, insider trading is “a manifestation of undue greed among the already well-to-do, worthy of legislated intervention if for no other reason than to send a message of censure on behalf of the American people.” There are, however, a number of problems with the use of the criminal law to combat the vice of greed.
In my book, Insider Trading: Law, Ethics, and Reform, I argue that greed is a poor justification for criminalizing conduct in the financial industry. (I focus on greed as a justification for the criminalization of insider trading in the book, but the arguments apply to financial crimes more generally.) First, any financial regulation targeting conduct to address the problem of greed will almost certainly be over-inclusive. The proceeds of any financial scheme can be used for greedy or generous ends (think the legend of Robinhood—not the retail broker!). Second, regulating conduct on the basis of greed will also be under-inclusive—unless the plan is to criminalize all profit-making endeavors.
Finally, while greedy acts are always harmful to the actor’s character, they are not always harmful to others. Greedy acts will typically harm others only if they are also unjust or unfair. If targeted acts are unjust or unfair, this is an independent justification for criminalization—and appeal to greed is superfluous. If, however, an act is neither unjust nor unfair, but is criminalized to combat the actor’s greed alone, then this justification violates John Stuart Mill’s time-honored Harm Principle. For Mill, the only valid justification for imposing criminal sanctions on a citizen is to prevent harm to others—harm to the character of the actor alone is insufficient justification. If a greedy act is neither unjust nor unfair, then its only conceivable harm is to the character of the actor. Consistent with Mill’s principle, Western liberal democracies have been trending away from such moralistic/vice laws. I think this is progress.
In sum, though greed is not good, it is also not a good basis for prosecuting firms or individuals. Criminal sanctions should be imposed based on considerations of justice and fairness—not character.
Friday, May 28, 2021
I just returned from my first “in-person” scholarly workshop since the onset of the pandemic. The event, “Introduction to the Economics of Information, Advertising, Privacy, and Data Security,” was hosted by the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School’s Law & Economics Center (LEC). The workshop took place at the Omni Amelia Island Resort—just outside of Jacksonville, Florida.
After a warm welcome from the LEC’s Director, Henry N. Butler, the program launched into nine sessions over three days:
- Introduction to Economics of Information
- Signaling/Screening/Mandated Disclosures
- Theories of Advertising, Substantiation, and Optimal Remedies
- Economics of Privacy
- Algorithmic Bias
- Economics of Data Security
- Big Data, Privacy, and Antitrust
- First Amendment Issues
- Social Media and Content Moderation.
The sessions were led by either Prof. Jane Bambauer, Prof. James C. Cooper, or Prof. John M. Yun. I’ve attended LEC workshops in the past, and have found them to be both rigorous and entertaining. This event was no exception. The assigned readings ranged from classic articles by Harold Demsetz and Jack Hirshleifer to contemporary pieces authored by the presenters and other leaders in the field. I learned a great deal and recommend future LEC workshops to anyone who may have the opportunity to participate.
But while I took a number of inspirations for future scholarship away from this workshop, I think I will remember this event most for offering the first opportunity, after a year and a half of “Zooming,” to get together with fellow scholars from around the country in person!
A number of us on the Business Law Prof Blog have written about how the pandemic has led to the discovery of wonderful new teaching and scholarly opportunities through online meeting spaces. The ability to meet “online” has certainly made me more accessible to my students (and vice versa), and I have participated in a number of conferences and panels that I would not have been able to attend even if pandemic-related travel restrictions were not in place. Nevertheless, this in-person event reminded me of the little big things that are gained by meeting in person. To note just a few:
- New friendships made while waiting in line for a coffee
- Philosophical discussions about the nature of language and sense perception over a good meal
- Long walks with old friends along the beach
- Meeting a fellow scholar at the pool who just happens to be working in the same area, and who would be perfect for the panel you are putting together…..
In sum, as wonderful as online platforms can be, there are many things about in-person meetings that are simply irreplaceable. I am grateful to George Mason and the LEC for offering me the first opportunity since the onset of the pandemic to be reminded of them.
Friday, May 14, 2021
Hiring Announcement for Instructor of Legal Analysis and Communication at Mississippi College School of Law
We are looking to hire for a position as Instructor of Legal Analysis and Communication at Mississippi College School of Law. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you are interested. Here’s the announcement:
Mississippi College School of Law (MC Law) invites applications from candidates for a position as Instructor of Legal Analysis and Communication. Responsibilities will include teaching in MC Law’s summer entry program, its Legal Analysis and Communication program (which focuses on writing and analytical skills), and in courses and workshops targeting success in law school and on the bar exam. We seek candidates with exceptional writing skills, a distinguished academic background (having earned a J.D.), and a commitment to excellence in teaching. We particularly encourage applications from candidates who will enrich the diversity of our faculty. Applications should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, the names and contact information of three references, and teaching evaluations (if available). Applications should be sent in a single PDF to Professor John P. Anderson, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, April 30, 2021
I’ve addressed the recent social-media-driven retail trading in stocks like GameStop in prior posts (here and here). In both posts, I focused on evidence that at least some of this trading seems to pursue goals other than (or in addition to) profit. For example, some of these retail traders claim that they are buying and holding stocks as a form of social, political, or aesthetic expression. My coauthors Jeremy Kidd, George Mocsary, and I recently posted a forthcoming article on this subject, Social Media, Securities Markets, and the Phenomenon of Expressive Trading, to SSRN. The article introduces the emerging phenomenon of expressive trading. It considers some of the challenges and risks expressive trading may pose to issuers, markets, and regulators--as well as to our traditional understanding of market functioning. Ultimately, the article concludes that while innovations like expressive trading "can be disruptive and demand a reimagining of the established order," market participants, issuers, and regulators would be wise to pause and observe before rushing to adopt defensive strategies or implement reforms. Here’s the abstract:
Commentators have likened the recent surge in social-media-driven (SMD) retail trading in securities such as GameStop to a roller coaster: “You don’t go on a roller coaster because you end up in a different place, you go on it for the ride and it’s exciting because you’re part of it.” The price charts for GameStop over the past few months resemble a theme-park thrill ride. Retail traders, led by some members of the “WallStreetBets” subreddit “got on” the GameStop roller coaster at just under $20 a share in early January 2021 and rode it to almost $500 by the end of that month. Prices then dropped to around $30 dollars in February before shooting back to $200 in March. But, like most amusement park rides that end where they start, many analysts expect market forces will ultimately prevail, and GameStop’s share price will soon settle back to levels closer to what the company’s fundamentals suggest it should. Conventional wisdom counsels that bubbles driven by little more than noise and FOMO—fear of missing out—should eventually burst. There are, however, signs suggesting that something more than market noise and over-exuberance is sustaining the SMD retail trading in GameStop.
There is evidence that at least some of the recent SMD retail trading in GameStop and other securities is not only motivated by the desire to make a profit, but rather to make a point. This Essay identifies and addresses the emerging phenomenon of “expressive trading”—securities trading for the purpose of political, social, or aesthetic expression—and considers some of its implications for issuers, markets, and regulators.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Ten days ago, co-blogger John Anderson posted about a new insider trading paper co-authored by Sureyya Burcu Avci, Cindy Schipani, Nejat Seyhun, and Andrew Verstein, A revised version of the paper, entitled Insider Giving, was recently posted on SSRN. In the interim, I have been in communication with two of the co-authors, both friends of the BLPB (and of mine), Cindy Schipani and Andrew Verstein. This paper, forthcoming in the Duke Law Journal, has a lot to offer.
As an insider trading nerd, I was pulled into this paper from the get-go. Having written my own insider trading piece about gifting information a few years ago, I was intrigued by the ides of looking at the gifting of the subject securities themselves as possible violative conduct. Of course, what Insider Giving starkly portrays is a situation in which stock is not donated wholly “from a ‘detached and disinterested generosity,’ ... ‘out of affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses.’” Commissioner v. Duberstein, 363 U.S. 278, 285 (1960) (citations omitted) (defining a gift for federal income tax purposes). The article presents significant information about insider gifts, including background on the motivation for these transactions, empirical data on abnormal returns, and relevant legal principles and analyses. #recommend!
Although I support reform of the nation's insider trading laws (as do the article's co-authors), my principal interest in the article relates to its analysis of the legality under § 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 (of and under, respectively, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended) of a charitable gift of a publicly traded firm’s stock made by a clear insider (officer or director) of the firm to a recognized IRC § 501(c)(3) entity while the insider is in possession of material nonpublic information. Specifically, I am focused on a gift that is made at a time when negative material facts about the issuer of the gifted security remain undisclosed. Although in various places the article refers to a gift of this kind as manipulative, my understanding of that term (as used in the Section 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 context) is that it relates to conduct that alters markets (e.g., for securities, trading price or volume). Instead, I conceptualize these gifts (as portrayed in the article), as potentially deceptive conduct in connection with the purchase or sale of a security--the general basis for insider trading liability under § 10(b)/Rule 10b-5. I provide a brief analysis below.
The deception in insider trading occurs through the breach of a fiduciary or fiduciary like duty of trust and confidence by someone holding that duty. In the posited scenario, that duty holder is the corporate insider. A person with that duty of trust and confidence must refrain from trading while aware (in possession) of material nonpublic information, unless that information is disclosed (and, as applicable, fully disseminated in relevant trading markets). Accordingly, leaving aside the applicable scienter requirement, the legality of the charitable gift as a matter of § 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 insider trading law would depend on whether the insider breached their duty and whether the gift constitutes, or otherwise is in connection with, a sale of the subject securities.
The breach of duty seems clear. The stock gift was not made for the firm’s purposes/in the firm’s best interest. It was made for the insider’s purposes/ for their self-interest, which may include both altruism and a tax benefit (among other things). The resulting excess benefits inuring to the insider may be seen to be "secret profits," as referenced by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in In re Cady, Roberts & Co., 40 S.E.C. 907, 916 n.31 (1961).
But what about the requisite connection to the "sale" of a security that is essential to a successful insider trading claim under § 10(b)/Rule 10b-5? Under § 3(a)(14) of the 1934 Act, "[t]he terms 'sale' and 'sell' each include any contract to sell or otherwise dispose of." Admittedly, I have not yet taken the time to look at any rule-making or decisional law on the definition of “sale” under the 1934 Act. However, it seems from the statute that the term “sale” is even more broad under the 1934 Act than it is under § 2(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (where there is a “for value” requirement—although there is a disposition for value on these facts because of the tax benefit to the donor), but for the fact that the 1934 Act statutory definition appears to necessitate a “contract” for sale or disposition. If the determination of a contract relies on common law, one might well find one in this situation, since there is an offer and acceptance and, likely(?), consideration . . . . In fact, stock donors also often sign gift agreements with charitable nonprofits that are binding at least as to some terms (and may be seen as a contract to dispose of the securities). Of course, as the article's co-authors point out, the transaction itself does not need to be a sale; but there must be some connection to a purchase or sale. I agree with that observation and note also that the “in connection with” requirement has been read relatively broadly. The co-authors also accurately indicate that charities often sell donated stock (in my experience, as soon as possible after securing record ownership), making the gift transaction look a lot like a sale of the security by the insider and a subsequent gift of the proceeds by the insider to the charity. (As the co-authors note, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that type of substance-over-form argument persuasive in the breach of duty analysis in another insider trading context--tippee liability--in Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646, 664 (1983). I also note the repetition of that language and reliance in the more recent Salman v. United States, 580 U.S. ___ (2016).)
Bottom line? I see a relatively clear path to § 10(b)/Rule 10b-5 liability here, assuming the insider has the requisite state of mind (scienter). Overall, my argument tracks the related argument in the article. I am not saying the argument is a decisive winner or that there would or should be enforcement activity. Tracking these transactions for enforcement purposes will depend on the accurate filing of a Form 5 (or a voluntary Form 4). The article describes the role that these disclosure forms serve.
Based on the analysis provided here (which is not based on research--just general knowledge), I would advise the insider that there is a real insider trading liability risk in making a gift in circumstances where the insider cannot make a sale. Do you agree? If not, what am I missing?
Friday, April 16, 2021
With recent studies suggesting that insiders are availing themselves of SEC Rule 10b5-1(c) trading plains to beat the market by trading their own company’s shares based on material non-public information, Congress may be poised to act. In March of 2021, Representative Maxine Waters reintroduced a bill entitled the Promoting Transparent Standards for Corporate Insiders Act. The same bill passed the house in the 116th Congress, but died in the Senate. If passed, the bill would require the SEC to study a number of proposed amendments to 10b5-1(c), report to Congress, and then implement the results of that study through rulemaking. I identified some problems with the bill in my article, Undoing a Deal with the Devil: Some Challenges for Congress's Proposed Reform of Insider Trading Plans. But if significant reforms are in store for insider trading plans, then insiders may look to other creative “loopholes” that permit them to monetize access to their firms’ material nonpublic information.
Professors Sureyya Burcu Avci, Cindy Schipani, Nejat Seyhun, and Andrew Verstein, have identified “insider giving” as another strategy for hiding insider trading in plain sight. Here’s the abstract for their article, Insider Giving, which is forthcoming in the Duke Law Journal:
Corporate insiders can avoid losses if they dispose of their stock while in possession of material, non-public information. One means of disposal, selling the stock, is illegal and subject to prompt mandatory reporting. A second strategy is almost as effective and it faces lax reporting requirements and legal restrictions. That second method is to donate the stock to a charity and take a charitable tax deduction at the inflated stock price. “Insider giving” is a potent substitute for insider trading. We show that insider giving is far more widespread than previously believed. In particular, we show that it is not limited to officers and directors. Large investors appear to regularly receive material non-public information and use it to avoid losses. Using a vast dataset of essentially all transactions in public company stock since 1986, we find consistent and economically significant evidence that these shareholders’ impeccable timing likely reflects information leakage. We also document substantial evidence of backdating – investors falsifying the date of their gift to capture a larger tax break. We show why lax reporting and enforcement encourage insider giving, explain why insider giving represents a policy failure, and highlight the theoretical implications of these findings to broader corporate, securities, and tax debates.
Friday, April 2, 2021
We are looking to make up to two tenure-track hires at Mississippi College School of Law. I'm chairing the search committee, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you are interested. Here’s the announcement:
Mississippi College School of Law invites applications from entry-level candidates for multiple tenure-track faculty positions expected to begin July 2021. Our search will focus primarily on candidates with an interest in teaching one or more of the following courses: Contracts, Professional Responsibility, Business Associations, Commercial Paper, Antitrust, Wills and Estates, Trusts, Domestic Relations, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Trial Advocacy. We seek candidates with a distinguished academic background (having earned a J.D. and/or Ph.D.), a commitment to excellence in teaching, and a demonstrated commitment to scholarly research and publication. We particularly encourage applications from candidates who will enrich the diversity of our faculty. We will consider candidates listed in the AALS-distributed FAR, as well as those who apply directly. Applications should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, a scholarly research agenda, the names and contact information of three references, and teaching evaluations (if available). Applications should be sent in a single PDF to Professor John P. Anderson, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, via email at email@example.com.
Friday, March 19, 2021
The University of Connecticut School of Business hosts The Business and Human Rights Initiative, which “seeks to develop and support multidisciplinary and engaged research, education, and public outreach at the intersection of business and human rights.” Professor Stephen Park, Director of the Business and Human Rights Initiative, invited me to be a discussant at the most recent meeting of the Initiative’s workshop series. The workshop focused on Rachel Chambers' and Jena Martin's excellent paper, A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for Human Rights. Here’s an abstract:
The global movement towards the adoption of human rights due diligence laws is gaining momentum. Starting in France, moving to the Netherlands, and now at the European Union level, lawmakers across Europe are accepting the need to legislate to require that companies conduct human rights due diligence throughout their global operations. The situation in the United States is very different: on the federal level there is currently no law that mandates corporate human rights due diligence. Civil society organization International Corporate Accountability Roundtable is stepping into the breach with a legislative proposal building on the model of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to prohibit corporations from engaging in grave human rights violations and to give the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice the power to investigate any alleged violations.
The draft law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – Human Rights (FCPA-HR) follows the general framework of the FCPA, but with certain enumerated human rights violations as the prohibited conduct rather than bribery and corruption. The FCPA-HR continues where the FCPA left off by requiring companies to engage in substantive conduct to prevent any human rights violations from occurring in their course of business and to make regular reports regarding their compliance and success. This paper situates the draft law within the current picture for business and human rights legislation both in the United States and in Europe, identifies the strengths of using the FCPA model, and analyzes the FCPA-HR proposal, addressing the likely critiques of the proposal.
Though I have been following developments in the area of business and human rights for years, I must admit that I have not paid sufficient attention to the movement in my classroom and scholarship. Chambers’ and Martin’s paper reminds us all of the need for reform, and of the reality that legislation in this area is imminent (at home and abroad). Imposing civil and criminal liability on corporations and individuals for their direct or indirect involvement in human rights violations would force dramatic changes in corporate compliance practices. If the SEC will have primary responsibility for enforcement (as it does for the FCPA), then we can expect dramatic organizational changes at the Commission as well. With so much at stake, there is a real need for collaboration among human rights experts, lawyers, scholars, regulators, and issuers to find the right model. There’s a lot of work to do, and Chambers’ and Martin’s paper offers an excellent start. The paper remains a work in progress, but it will be available soon—I look forward to its publication!