- Economy of Faith
In Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption, Mark C. Taylor turns his attention to the topic of money and markets in order to shed light on what are undoubtedly among the most important and complex structures of the world in which we live. For, whatever else one understands, one is missing a crucial piece of the puzzle if one does not understand how money operates in the global economy. Taylor’s book represents an extraordinary attempt to do just that and, in the process, reminds its readers that no one book, no matter how smart, can put all the pieces of this puzzle together. For in its attempt to explain the profound theoretical complexities of financial marketplace, this book glosses over real issues of power that are fundamental to understanding the causes and effects of the ways that money get circulated in our world.
In his preface, Taylor suggests that this book has its origin in two events: the suspension of the gold standard by Nixon in 1971 and the stock market crash of 1987. The first event occurred without Taylor’s knowledge while he was abroad in Denmark and left him bewildered when he converted his small stipend into Danish kroner and received $200 less than he had the previous semester. “Where did the money go,” he wondered, trying to process this first experience of money’s “virtuality.” Regarding the second event, Taylor recounts a conversation with his son, Aaron, in October 1987:
“You know,” I said, “the past few days have been pretty amazing.” Aaron, who was fourteen at the time, asked, “Why, what’s going on?” “The stock market has crashed and billions and billions of dollars have vanished.” “Really? Where’s the money go?” Once again, I had no answer. But by this time, I had come to suspect that the issue was not merely a matter of economics.(xv)
And a matter of mere economics it is not. Taylor spends the next 300 pages unpacking an entire history and philosophy of culture that is astounding in both its scope and depth. In taking account of this project, Taylor suggests that it “represents the culmination of an argument I have been developing for more than three decades” (xvi). And for those familiar with the richness of Taylor’s work during that period, that alone is reason enough to give this book some attention. While many elements of Taylor’s previous work are in evidence here, Confidence Games does mark a culmination in his attempt to develop a philosophy of culture consistent with the complexity of our world.
In summarizing the goals of this book in a subsequent interview, Taylor says:
I have three major objectives in this book. First, to explain how art displaces religion and then markets and finance displace art as the expression of spiritual striving during the past two centuries; second, to examine the interrelationship between postmodern philosophy and art on the one hand and finance capitalism on the other hand; third, to develop a model of global financial markets as complex adaptive systems. In the course of this analysis, the intricate interrelation of neo-liberal economics, neo-conservative politics and neo-fundamentalist religion becomes clear.(Taylor, Interview)
In seeking to explain the development of the global financial marketplace and its relationship to culture, Taylor has set an enormous task for himself. How well does he succeed in accomplishing these goals? Well, sometimes Taylor’s broad historical arguments are persuasive, and other times they seem strained. Consider, for instance, Talyor’s argument that the last two centuries have witnessed a broad transition from religion to art to the market as the preeminent locus of spiritual meaning in our culture. Certainly many other genealogies could be constructed to account for the rise to prominence of global capital, and I suspect that this history records the development of Taylor’s own thinking over the last thirty years, as it has moved from philosophy of religion to art and now into broader cultural issues, as...