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Naomi Lamoreaux

Professor links economics, history at Romano Lecture

By Samson Widerman

Naomi Lamoreaux
Download Naomi Lamoreaux's presentation, "Corporations are People, My Friend." (.pdf, 2.9mb)

Even as a Binghamton University undergraduate, Naomi Lamoreaux always knew she wanted to be an academic scholar and professor. Since then, she has become a Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History at Yale University, receiving numerous awards for her work and has held positions at a variety of prestigious institutions.

Lamoreuax was invited as the guest speaker for the 2013 Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture, hosted by Harpur College in April at Binghamton University's Anderson Center. The Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture Series was endowed in 1984 by the Romanos to sponsor lectures given by noted speakers in history, economics, art history and medicine.

Lamoreaux received her bachelor's degree in history from Binghamton in 1972 and today is well-known in the field of economic history. Originally from Endwell, N.Y., Lamoreaux has never lost touch with the Binghamton area, and expressed her excitement about returning to the University. She explained that over the years she has remained tied to Binghamton through her family members and friends in the area.

"Not only did I graduate from this institution with my bachelor's, three of my siblings did as well," she said. "My sister Dara still works here in the counseling center."

Lamoreaux began her undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1960s. However, the danger caused by the anti-war protests during the Vietnam War brought her home.

At that time Lamoreaux's father, Sol Raboy, was a Harpur physics professor, and she was familiar with campus. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, she decided she would attend Binghamton University and stay close to home.

While students were also protesting at Binghamton, she found that administration had a different attitude about the protests and felt students had important things to say.

"I remember being at a demonstration where they actually served coffee and donuts to the protestors!" she said. "It was very different from Wisconsin."

Upon graduating from Binghamton, Lamoreaux had a foundation from which she went on to get her master's and doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University and later teach at Brown University and UCLA.

Reflecting on the physical changes on campus that have been made since her last visit, she explained that during her time, there was also a lot of change.

"This was the period when the University system was being built up, so there was a sense of excitement and promise," she said.

The lecture Lamoreaux gave was titled "Corporations are People, My Friend: The Strange History of Corporations, Government Regulation, and the Fourteenth Amendment," after a famous gaffe by Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Wayne Jones, interim dean of Harpur College and Susan Wolcott, Economics Department chair, introduced Lamoreaux with great excitement. Walcott emphasized the interesting perspective Lamoreaux brings to economics as a historian.

"Naomi has continued to do a phenomenal job of bridging economics and history," Wolcott said.

The lecture focused on how corporate personhood came to exist in its present form, which is the topic of much political debate and unease, especially in the area of campaign finance. Through a number of court decisions and cases, she explained how corporate personhood developed and led to the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that secured corporations the right to free speech even in regards to political campaigns.

Her proposition was that when commentators attempted to explain corporate personhood, they got the history wrong and as a result the discussion has taken a wrong turn. Ultimately she suggested that it made sense for some corporations to have the rights they have been granted, but it might not be wise for all of them to have such rights.

The lecture was an off-shoot of a project she is currently collaborating on with a former colleague at UCLA about the organizational roots on the right to privacy. It was followed by a reception in the Anderson Center, where students and faculty had a chance to further discuss the topics of the afternoon.

A number of economics students attended the lecture and found learning the historical background of corporations refreshing.

"It is a whole new perspective about how I try to view corporations" said economics major Mo Pariser. "You try to view most corporations from an economic background if you know it."

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Last Updated: 6/18/13