David A. Moss

John G. McLean Professor of Business Administration

David Moss is the John G. McLean Professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches in the Business, Government, and the International Economy (BGIE) unit. He earned his B.A. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. from Yale.  In 1992-1993, he served as a senior economist at Abt Associates. He joined the Harvard Business School faculty in July 1993.

Professor Moss’s research focuses on economic policy and especially the government’s role as a risk manager. He has published three books on these subjects: Socializing Security: Progressive-Era Economists and the Origins of American Social Policy (Harvard University Press,  1996), which traces the intellectual and institutional origins of the American welfare state; When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager (Harvard University Press, 2002), which explores the government’s pivotal role as a risk manager in policies ranging from limited liability law to federal disaster relief; and A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics: What Managers, Executives, and Students Need to Know (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), a primer on macroeconomics and macroeconomic policy.

In addition to these books, Moss has co-edited two volumes on economic regulation and has published numerous articles, book chapters, and case studies, mainly in the fields of institutional and policy history, financial history, political economy, and regulation.  One recent article, “An Ounce of Prevention: Financial Regulation, Moral Hazard, and the End of ‘Too Big to Fail’” (Harvard Magazine, Sept-Oct 2009), grew out of his research on financial regulation for the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel.

Professor Moss has created – and currently teaches – a financial history course in the second year of the MBA program entitled “Creating the Modern Financial System.” The course traces major developments in financial markets, institutions, and instruments from the early eighteenth century to today.

Professor Moss is the founder of the Tobin Project, a nonprofit research organization, and a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. Recent honors include the Robert F. Greenhill Award, the Editors’ Prize from the American Bankruptcy Law Journal, the Student Association Faculty Award for outstanding teaching at the Harvard Business School (five times), and the American Risk and Insurance Association’s Annual Kulp-Wright Book Award for the “most influential text published on the economics of risk management and insurance.”

May 2012

  1. Risk Management as a Function of Government

    Professor Moss's academic work in this area explores how and why governments manage private-sector risks. Based on historical and institutional research, he argues that risk management constitutes a critical function of government with far-reaching implications. Some examples of risk management policy include limited liability law, bankruptcy discharge, deposit insurance, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, old-age insurance, federal disaster relief, disability insurance, workplace safety regulations, and product liability law. Although these policies serve an extremely wide variety of social objectives, the essential vehicle in each case is risk management. That is, all of these policies (and numerous others) achieve their objectives either by shifting, spreading, or directly reducing risk. In order to develop a better understanding of why governments manage risk and under what circumstances, Moss has begun charting the history of public risk management in the United States. He considers why the major risk management policies were enacted, what economic functions they were designed to serve, and, more broadly, how risk management policy has developed over time. At root, this line of research explores the fundamental role and evolution of government risk management in a modern capitalist economy.
  2. Democratic Governance and Decision Making

    Under what conditions are public policies in a democracy determined by special interests or, alternatively, by the general interest?  A good deal of academic work, particularly associated with the economic theory of regulation, suggests that special interests nearly always dominate policy outcomes.  In this line of research, Professor Moss seeks to test that presumption against the historical record in the United States and to identify (and better understand) the historical circumstances under which either special interest or general interest has been relatively more influential in shaping legislative and regulatory outcomes.
  3. Financial Innovation and Financial Crisis in Historical Perspective

    This line of research aims to inform our understanding of modern financial challenges and vulnerabilities by reexamining important financial innovations and financial crises of the past, with particular but not exclusive attention to U.S. financial history.