3. The Rule of Finance

Editorial

“The first rule of Finance Capital is: You do not talk about Finance Capital.”

The Financial Aristocracy

Featured illustration by Mirko Rastić.

The first rule of Finance Capital is: You do not talk about Finance Capital. The second rule of Finance Capital is: You do not talk about Finance Capital. Third rule of Finance Capital: Someone yells stop, goes broke, is bailed out, the trade is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a trade. Fifth rule: one trade at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: neat shirts, neat shoes. Seventh rule: Trading will go on as long as it has to. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first day at Finance Capital, you have to trade.


The history of capitalism is characterized by a fundamental paradox, in which the most abstract and most impersonal expression of value — money — mediates the most concrete and most personal form of power. From Medici popes in renaissance Rome and Rothschild peers in Victorian England to Goldman Sachs’ private army of mercenary technocrats, moneyed elites have long exerted extraordinary influence over politics. Contemporary capitalism may present itself as a faceless regime steered by anonymous market dynamics, but as in previous eras it has produced an extremely oligarchic order in which 62 easily identifiable names and faces now control over half the world’s wealth.

At once astonishingly abstract and intensely personal, global finance is therefore neither here nor there: one moment it appears as an initial public offering on the stock exchange, only to vanish in a tax haven at night and resurface at your doorstep the next morning in the shape of a bailiff. A single trader’s gamble on a specific monetary movement may bring great fortune to his hedge fund, yet spell the ruin of an entire nation. And what’s worse, there appears to be little we can do to bring these professional gamblers to their senses. The robber barons running the show could easily be rounded up, put on a double decker bus and collectively driven into a ravine — and still their firms’ speculative operations would largely carry on undisturbed. As one of Steinbeck’s characters in The Grapes of Wrath put it, “It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

The so-called international financial markets that undergird the capitalist world economy therefore present themselves as an immensely complex facade obscuring a terrifyingly simple truth: the obscene inequalities of wealth and power at the heart of the contemporary global political economy. On top of that highly unequal and thoroughly undemocratic order sits what Marx called “the aristocracy of finance” — that slice of the 1 percent that ostensibly specializes in the allocation of private investment and the intermediation between lenders and savers. The third print issue of ROAR Magazine aims to investigate the immense class power and extraordinary political privileges of that moneyed elite. What are its sources? How did it evolve over time? And how can its rule be resisted — and eventually overcome?

Featuring leading critics of financialization as well as inspiring grassroots activists, artists and up-and-coming scholars, The Rule of Finance also looks beyond the dominion of this “class of idle rentiers,” reaching out towards radical new horizons and highlighting the emancipatory potential of innovative new forms of debtor organizing. Today, exactly five years after the Occupy Wall Street movement took the world by storm, the struggle against the 1 percent and the fight for social justice, debt cancellation and real democracy continues. This issue asks how we might begin to turn the tables.

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Source URL — https://roarmag.org/magazine/issue-3-editorial-financial-aristocracy/

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