Accepted paper:

What finance reveals about German capitalism


Hadas Weiss (Madrid Institute for Advanced Study)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on fieldwork in Germany and inspired by Marx's analysis of capitalism in general and commodity fetishism specifically, I argue that turning finance into a utility has the unintended consequence of revealing some of the aspirations and deficiencies of German capitalism.

Paper long abstract:

Since the last financial crisis, it has become commonplace to speak of finance in terms of rent-seeking and of the finance sector as parasitic upon a healthier and more productive form of capitalism. Accordingly, corrections at the state level to short-termism and speculative excess, take the shape of regulations meant to turn finance into a utility and its provision into a public service. But Marx has shown that in a capitalist system, surplus value is accumulated through production itself in a way that precedes more overt and contingent forms of extraction. One understanding of commodity fetishism is that an underlying process of accumulation is veiled by overt relations of power between people and the assets they command. Marx's analysis of capitalism suggests that the transparent abuses of finance in its unbridled extractive moments conceal capitalism's "normal" exploitation. My argument here is that the opposite also holds true. Namely, finance reined in by capitalist states and harnessed for their social projects puts into sharp relief both the aspirations of national capitalism and some of its enduring deficiencies. I will develop this argument by drawing on my fieldwork on financial advice in Germany.

panel P129
Marx @200: historical materialism for today's world [IUAES Commission on Global Transformations and Marxian Anthropology]