Cultural Logic has published a piece I wrote titled “The Financial Crisis as a Crisis of the Imagination.”
The journal is free and open access online, and available here:
The piece makes this basic argument:
- That the current financial crisis is a crisis of the imagination: both the imagination of policy-makers and the public to conceive of social wealth and cooperation outside of a global, neoliberal capitalist paradigm and the imagination of capital itself.
- That there has been a tendency to approach finance as either completely imaginary money or as just as real as any other currency or wealth. Both approaches are wrong. We need to look closely at Marx’s theories of value and imagination to understand the power of “imaginary money.”
- I suggest that there is a dialectic of value and imagination at work in Marx’s thought: social relationships are guided by how we collectively and individually imagine value. Social values, in turn, shape what and how we imagine. Capitalism thrives by occupying the circuit of imagination and value.
- Money is the crystallization of capitalism’s shaping of the circuit of value and imagination. Not only is the value of money largely imaginary (as in the use value of little slips of paper), money comes to occupy the way we imagine value and our relationship to our society. In turn, it shapes what we can imagine, both individually and collectively. Money is a hegemonic medium of the social imagination. Through money, capitalism attempts to reduce the complex world of social values (ethical values, community values, artistic values) to a single, quantifiable exchange value.
- This state of affairs has only intensified since the onslaught of the neoliberal revolution and the commodification and privatization of ever more spheres of our lives. This has been compounded by widespread “financialization”, or the expansion and intensification of finance (student loans, mortgages, credit card debt, savings, micro-credit, and sub-prime lending, not to mention state debts and deficits and the reliance of corporations on banks and financial markets) which narrows our imagination of the future dramatically.
- The financial sector, which both oversees and disciplines economic actors (as large as states and as small as individuals), functions like the imagination of the capitalist system as a whole. Financial crises stem from the “disarticulation” or coming-apart of real-world “values” and the prices ascribed through financial speculation. As this “imaginative gap” grows wider, capital becomes increasingly aware of the social crises it has created (social, political, ecological). Financial crises are merely the tip of the iceberg, but they allow for a political and economic “state of emergency” that permits even more control of society – today’s “age of austerity,” for example.
- I close by arguing that the Left needs to pay attention to the dialectic of value and imagination in understanding finance and financialization, their crises, and paths beyond the age of austerity.