Taking Stock

set your seismoscope to “the deep tectonic shifts in the spatio-temporal disposition of capitalist development.”

A haunting quotation from Fernand Braudel, historian of the longue duree, on financialization — which he perceives as the historical progression in each epoch of capitalism from the more material activities of commodity production, manufacturing, and trade to the far more abstract activities of financial markets: leveraged capital, derivatives, book-keeping party tricks, and other modes of numerical legerdemain.

Every capitalist development of this order seems, by reaching the stage of financial expansion, to have in some sense announced its maturity: it was a sign of autumn.

– From The Perspective of the World: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Vol. III, 246.

Rolling Stone Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

Is the end nigh? Probably not. But maybe something is ending and something else beginning in the longer story of capitalism, at least that’s the story told, in different rhetorics, by Matt Taibbi and David Harvey.

Image: Rolling Stone.

4 thoughts on “Taking Stock

  1. Maybe we should narrow Braudel’s line as follows: “It was a sign of autumn in the industry of concern”? In this case, home loans. But did Braudel know about Federal Reserve Chairs who kept interest rates artificially low? Or about the deregulation of the banking industry achieved by free-market oriented governmental leaders? – TL

    1. Right. Except that the industry of concern here is the American-led form of neoliberalism as a whole. Braudel’s point is a structural one about capitalism I think. The turn to financialization made by the Wall Street financiers (and government in league with them — they tend to be essentially the same people) has been driven by the material and structural logic of capitalism and by their urge to remain dominant within the national and global political economies. It’s not driven by their free choices. Where to put all the capital returns in order to keep growing? They have to find a way to do it while keeping as much as possible for themselves. For without an ideology of growth, no neoliberal capitalism. So, put it into more and more abstract forms of finance, not into some kind of redistribution of wealth through higher wages, universal health care, better housing, improved education, arts and culture, infrastructure improvement. It’s the 1930s: China is the US and the US is Britain?

  2. As you noted, it’s just too bad that they capitalists didn’t put some of that extra growth into wages. I mean, higher wages feeds growth by means of more consumption? Sure, they might see health care as a sink, but improved housing usually means construction and sustained economic growth. Even Adam Smith could’ve predicted general economic growth by consumer “reinvestment.” *Sigh* …The capitalists can’t even play their own game correctly. – TL

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *