- The World of Finance
[End Page 30]
For some years now and in particular since the early 1970s, the worlding of worlds has been increasingly subjected to the logic of finance. This involves the rise in the visibility, power, and profits of the financial services sector along with the broader and perhaps more significant process of the financialization of the economy.1 At least as important as the financialization of the capitalist economy, however, and often imperceptible or at least unperceived, has been the spread of finance and a financial mindset across society, culture, politics, and public life, in a process that includes the coding of self and other in terms of finance.2 Finance is a fully social, symbolic, and subjective reality involving a process through which finance becomes normalized to agents enacting and enacted by what can be called a “financialization of the senses.”3
Finance is equally an economic dynamic, driven by what Costas Lapavitsas calls “financial expropriation,” in which surplus-value is extorted beyond and in addition to the immediate exploitation of wage labor.4 It seeks what Karl Marx called “surplus profit,” a profit above the average rate of profit, and what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls “superexploitation,” a search for sources of profitability ever higher than the norm, which thus ratchets up “normal” rates of profit.5 But this is neither simply a cultural and discursive dynamic nor is it a purely economic process. Just as it is inadequate to treat financialization as merely cultural, it is necessary but not sufficient to map the economic processes of the rising hegemony of finance.6 It is also not enough for political economy and cultural studies to each claim the rights to a division of labor that puts the other side of the picture out of consideration. Indeed, it is above all a financial logic of separation that pits disciplinary forms against one another. At the same time finance today is producing vast new connections that are again calling these very distinctions into question.7 One of the reasons I propose to speak of the “world of finance” is to underscore how finance combines the economic, political, social, cultural, and subjective in radically new ways.
The worlding of the world in terms of finance involves a process in which there is an indexing of “all that is the case” around a transcendental that provides both measure and count. This ontological process of worlding takes place in the most mundane and practical measures or, more precisely, this is a world in which the mundane is also highly theoretical. Mathematical code and ideological presupposition are combined and recombined in new ways, calling into question the very value of their distinction.
The imposition of the world of finance can be seen in, for example, financial literacy programs in and beyond schools, and beyond this in the invitation to all citizens to think of themselves as “human capital” into which they must invest. This financialization of the world treats the world as uninscribed, uninformed, or both. It is exercised in the name of a reality principle as a logic that the unadjusted and ignorant can achieve by enlightenment. The notion of financial literacy thus takes directly the idea of learning and education in the world of meaningful symbols as a motif of progressive emancipation from an assumed naivety and the incapacity to control one’s desires. We are told that if the world of finance appears alien to us then clearly we are the problem, although with a little help we can do better. [End Page 31]
Worlding of the world in terms of finance takes place with full awareness of the challenges that are put to it. Thus the widespread palliative that is offered to that segment of the banking market that views finance negatively, even while it requires at least minimal banking services for continued participation in full economic life. The HDFC Bank advises that “We understand your world” and the ANZ Bank reassures customers in its advertising campaigns and billboard posters: “We live in your world.”
Such statements anticipate a sense of division between the world of finance and the lifeworld of others even as...