In this lecture I will present preliminary results from my present research on the social legitimacy of financial profits in Germany and the UK from a historical-comparative institutionalist perspective. The history of capitalist societies as well as their presence has always been marked by public and political debates on the legitimacy of their economic order. Legitimatory debates are a collective, discursive search for normative grounds on which the institutionalization of markets as primary coordinating device for the social division of labor can be justified. In all European and North-American countries public debates on the legitimacy of capitalism defenders refer to growth, freedom and efficiency while critics point to social inequality, power and economization. However, if we look empirically beyond the general question of pro- and anti-capitalism we find culturally divergent, historically grown discursive patterns in different countries that show specific combinations of pro- and anti-capitalism in political and public spheres: Even if a certain group of people generally agrees to market principles this does not necessarily prevent them from harshly criticizing the moral appropriateness of specific forms profits in certain markets, sectors or even by individual firms. Accordingly, even strong anti-capitalist perspectives often derive their criticism from a clear-cut positive image of a moral economy that is violated by „bad capitalists".
Recent public debates on the legitimacy of financial and banking profits in Germany and the United Kingdom will be presented and traced back wards throughout the history of financial market regulation, back to the Great Depression and well into the 19th century. The research goal is to provide a better understanding of how culturally divergent capitalist societies actively seek and reshape a definition of a „good“ financial economy and cast these images into the institutionalization of market rules, in a comparison of the first (1870-1930) and the second (1970-2008) golden era of financial capitalism.