February 2010

Jon Leon

nonfiction

The Violence of Financial Capitalism by Christian Marazzi, translated by Kristina Lebedeva

Through the explication of how money flows now, how it is handled directly in cognitive capitalism, where knowledge and intellectual property create monopolistic enterprises with high-margin products that can be easily reproduced, Italian socioeconomist Christian Marazzi surveys the events and interventions surrounding the current economic crisis. Like the able-bodied men of Veblen’s early leisure class, who were not expected to dishonor themselves in industrial enterprise (indeed, Marazzi refers to the current system of production as resembling the eighteenth-century economic circuit), it is the able-minded today who do not. They make their money through its very reproduction, by immaterial means. In The Violence of Financial Capitalism, the assumed result is dehumanization through lower wages and intermittent work, the loss of free time through consumer participation in the research and development of Web 2.0 applications, and a “perverse” autonomization of financial capital from collective interest, having its roots in the vogue of shareholder value following the collapse of margins after the go-go '60s, with a finger to deregulation and the fallout of former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan’s liberalization policies just prior to the crisis.

To compulsively avoid what is between money and itself in a financial transaction is an abbreviated path to holding and accumulating substantially more money, by way of the production of wealth by means of wealth. It is an effort to touch what one truly desires: the money itself -- profits of such a thorough purity as to be feared as potentially “fictitious.” The Violence of Financial Capitalism attempts a chronology that will inform the perplexed and uninitiated of the recent inflection reached by these passive routes to abnormal returns.

Marazzi bemoans the insistence on external investment activity to generate profit, and regrets a distancing from instrumental goods (“constant capital”) and wages (“variable capital”) as a source of human marginalization in the productive process. He is concerned that the velocity of financial engineering precludes taking one’s time and freedom from the anxiety of immediate profit. Within the context of this book, he fails to acknowledge that full employment is not desirable in a sufficiently advanced society, one that has matured technologically and productively to absorb new processes of value production, measurement, and quantification. It is not destruction of capital that is violent. The expansion of human knowledge to synthesize what it imagines, to create bread from bread through complex structures heretofore unimaginable, is spurred by a recollection of the distaste for the blockage that allows money to masquerade as anything else but money.

The Violence of Financial Capitalism is a primer on the concepts at work in the new economy. Marazzi recognizes the assumption that the creation of “fictitious profits” as the cause of the precarization of work, and financialization as the cause of the financial crisis, is not an effective critique. He conjoins the once-divisive distinction between the “real” economy and the “financial” economy, posited as if manufacturing had a hierarchical and qualitative standing over immaterial products, and admits that “financialization is not an unproductive / parasitic deviation of growing quotas of surplus-value and collective saving.” At times Marazzi seems to waver at the cusp of total acceptance of a new paradigm, and a flimsy need for efficacy that will disrupt that paradigm. He exposes his indecision through an implied regretting of automization and reduction of human resources in the productive process, possibly derived from a distinctly Italian feeling for handcrafted finery, yet throughout the book he comes close to capitulating to the positive necessity for credit, leverage, and other tools of financialization. There’s a tinge of envy in the sour interpretation of a statistic that emphasizes without mortgage credit the United States GDP growth over the past few years would be equal to that of the eurozone, or “outright less than.”

Though the book does little to corner the purported violence in financialization, except to say, opaquely, that the “violence of crises consists in this destruction of capital, a destruction that in biocapitalism strikes the totality of human beings,” it nevertheless is a judicial take on the impingement of finance in everyday life, and its ability to create asymmetry in global markets that will eventually dislocate every human being from traditional norms of value in almost every sense. Included is a precious humanistic coda advocating care for oneself and the environment in which one lives, while encouraging a socially responsible development. The book ends with an abridged glossary of “Words in Crisis” defining specialized terms like “Carry Trade” and “Mark-to-market” to the multitude of the uninitiated, which in Marazzi’s view is “almost everyone” -- but an almost everyone that is unbecomingly affected by a caution of violence that has yet to emerge as observable. 

The Violence of Financial Capitalism by Christian Marazzi, translated by Kristina Lebedeva
Semiotext(e)
ISBN: 1584350830
112 Pages