A Critique of the Critique of Finance: Critics of neoliberal capitalism rarely recognize the productive power of speculation

by Martijn Konings

If there is one theme that unites the various critiques of contemporary finance, it is the emphasis on its speculative character. Financial growth is said to be driven not by the logic of efficient markets, but rather by irrational sentiment, “animal spirits” that do not respect fundamental values.
Emphasizing the role of volatility in contemporary capitalism (evident at the time of writing, as the stock market is experiencing a downturn) is important as an antidote to notions of market efficiency and equilibrium. But it is a mistake to think that it provides a sufficient basis for effective critique. Predictions regarding the limits or collapse of neoliberal finance have simply not enjoyed a good track record. Over and over, the contemporary financial system has proven capable of sustaining higher levels of speculative activity than anticipated. This has certainly been true of the past decade. Capital and Time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason is my attempt to make sense of this—that is, to understand what might be wrong or missing in the existing heterodox critique of speculation, and to advance a more accurate understanding of the role of uncertainty, risk, and speculation in contemporary capitalism.
Capital and Time For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason KONINGSAt the heart of the critique of speculation we find a distinction between real and fictitious forms of value. Although “essentialist” (or “foundationalist”) modes of explanation have been under fire across the social sciences for several decades now, when it comes to the critique of finance they have had considerable staying-power: without a notion of real value, it often seems, we lose any objective standard against which to assess the speculative gyrations of capitalist markets.
Capital and Time asks what kind of critical theory we might develop if we bracket the anxious attachment to a notion of fundamental value. To that end, it turns to the work of economist Hyman Minsky. Although Minsky has been popularized precisely as a critic of speculation, he in fact insisted that almost all value judgments and investments were to some degree speculative—their success or failure would be determined in an unknown future. For him, the key economic question is how order emerges in a world that offers no guarantees, how more or less stable standards and norms arise amidst uncertainty.
Of course, the “endogenous” origin of financial standards is a well-rehearsed theme in heterodox economics—indeed, it is a staple of the “post-Keynesian” literature that claims Minsky’s legacy. But such perspectives have never been able to break with the idea that financial stability is at its core dependent on external interventions that suppress speculative impulses. For Minsky, however, this is to miss the point about endogeneity. To his mind, there was no clear dividing line between financial practices and their governance: central banks and other public authorities are no more able to see into the future and to transcend uncertainty than private investors are.
Minsky was therefore highly skeptical about official claims of discretionary precision management: financial governance is always embroiled in the very risk logic that it is charged with managing. That also means that financial policy can appear quite ordinary, even banal: at the heart of capitalist financial management is a logic of backstopping and bailout that responds to the possibility that the failure of an institution may take down wider financial structures.
The stability of the post-New Deal financial system is often attributed to the Glass-Steagall separation of the stock market and commercial banking. But Minsky tended to view Glass-Steagall as one of several measures to direct bank credit away from the stock market towards other, no less speculative ends, notably consumer and mortgage financing. To his mind, the stability of the post-war period derived rather from the creation of an extensive financial safety net (which included, for instance, deposit insurance, which removed the rationale behind bank runs) that served to socialize risk.
This institutional arrangement turned out to have a significant drawback: a pattern of chronic inflation emerged that, by the late 1970s, was widely perceived as a major problem. Minsky’s lack of faith in the possibility of cleanly staged external interventions led him to feel that that there was no real way out of this predicament. Monetarist doctrines, ascendant during the 1970s under the influence of Milton Friedman, relied on exactly the belief in an arbitrarily defined monetary standard that Minsky rejected as naïve. Muddling through, it seemed, was the price of avoiding another financial crash and depression.
The Volcker shock of 1979 changed this dynamic in a way that Minsky had not foreseen but that is comprehensible when seen through the lens he provided us with. Paul Volcker looked to monetarism not as a means to enforce an external limit or standard on the financial system, but as a politically expedient way to break with accommodating policies and to proactively engage the endogenous dynamics of finance. The consequences of the Volcker shock were predictable (which is exactly why the Federal Reserve had been reluctant to pursue similar policies in previous years): inflation gave way to instability and crisis. Inflation was conquered as jobs were lost and wages stagnated. And, far from money being returned to its neutral exchange function, opportunities for speculation multiplied.
The American state was never going to sit idly by as the financial system returned to dynamics of boom and bust: when instability took the form of systemic threats, authorities would bail out the institutions that had overextended themselves. Of course, Volcker would not have been able to predict the specific features of the too-big-to-fail regime as it emerged during the 1980s and evolved subsequently; but the very point of the neoliberal turn in financial management that he had overseen was to create a context where risk could be socialized in ways that were more selective and therefore did not entail generalized inflation.
The inflation of asset values that has been such a marked feature of the past four decades has always been premised centrally on the willingness of authorities to view the “moral hazard” of the too-big-to-fail logic as a policy instrument—even if they may have decried it officially as a regrettable corruption of market principles. Spectacular bailouts, mundane policies to protect the key nodes of the payment systems, the “Greenspan put”, the different iterations of quantitative easing—these are all variations on that basic too-important-to-fail logic.
Existing critical perspectives tend to view crisis and the need for bank bailouts as manifesting the essential incoherence of neoliberal finance, its lack of solid foundations and the irrationality of speculation. Capital and Time breaks with such moralistic assessments. The way deepening inequality and the speculative growth of asset values continue to feed off each other is troubling for any number of reasons, but there is nothing inherently “unsustainable” about it—the process does not have a natural or objective limit.
At this point in time, the critique of speculation does little more than lend credibility to official discourses that present crises as preventable and bailouts as one-off, never-to-be-repeated interventions. In that way, it prevents us from critically relating to a neoliberal reality that has been shaped to its core by the speculative exploitation of risk and uncertainty, and in which regressive risk socialization serves as the everyday logic of financial governance.
* Martijn Konings is Associate Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Emotional Logic of Capitalism and Capital and time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason. This post originally appeared on the Stanford University Press blog

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Books, community members posts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Goose and the Common — The Privatization of Public Space

“The [following 18th century folk] poem is one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement, the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property. In a few lines, the poem manages to criticize double standards, expose the artificial and controversial nature of property rights… And it does this all with humor, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets… Like most of the criticisms of the enclosure movement, the poem depicts a world of rapacious, state-aided “privatization,” a conversion into private property of something that had formerly been common property or, perhaps, had been outside of the property system altogether.” (Boyle 2003: 33-4).

The Goose and the Common / Anonymous

leavening_enclosure_mapThe law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.  

Boyle, James. 2003. “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain“. Law and Contemporary Problems 66: 33-74.

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Art, Papers | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Social Media, Authoritarian Capitalism, and Donald Trump

by Christian Fuchs*

In the years from 1986 until 1999, the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party Jörg Haider with the help of anti-immigration slogans, politics as entertainment, a juvenile and dynamic habitus, as well as ridicule of opponents led his party from a voting share of 9.7% in 1986 to a share of 26.9% in 1999. The media helped making Haider and Haider helped the media attracting audiences and sales. Haider was the prototype of the new right’s authoritarian leaders. Twenty years later, Haider is dead and right-wing authoritarianism has awoken to new life. What Ruth Wodak termedHaiderizationhas become a governing political model.
Neoliberal capitalism has brought about its own negative dialectic: Increasing inequalities have backfired and have not just advanced economic crisis, but also the emergence of new nationalisms and the politics of scapegoating immigrants, refugees and other minorities for social problems.
Digital Demagogue Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and TwitterThe result of the combination of authoritarian capitalism and capitalist “social” media is the
decline of the public sphere and democracy. The book Digital Demagogue: Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter explains the rise of authoritarian capitalism, nationalism and right-wing ideology in the context of Trump and Twitter. Inspired by the works of Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, it re-invigorates the works on authoritarianism of Franz L. Neumann, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Wilhelm Reich, Leo Löwenthal, and Klaus Theweleit in the social media age.
Capitalism as a societal formation – shaped by the accumulation by money capital, political power, reputation and attention – is an antagonistic system with immanent crisis potentials. These antagonisms exist between capital and multiple forms of paid and unpaid labour, global flows and localised identities, the invisibility and intransparency of power and the surveillant visibility of citizens and consumers, social insecurities and the securitisation of minorities after 9/11, neoliberal political elites/bureaucrats and citizens, party politics and social movements politics, universalism and particularism, unification and fragmentation, class politics and identity politics, collectivism and individualism, public/common goods and the marketization of everything. We experience a multidimensional economic, political, ideological and environmental crisis. Authoritarian capitalism is emerging out of these complex crises and creates new antagonisms. The communication of nationalism has taken on new forms. The age of authoritarian capitalism is the age of social media, big data and fake news.

During the early days of the World Wide Web, many progressive observers assumed that representatives of the far-right are bad at using new technologies and that they hate the Internet. This assumption has been proven wrong. The Nazis had the Volksempfänger. Today’s far-right leaders are masters of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Propaganda back then was Hitler- and Goebbels-generated content. Today, propaganda is party-generated nationalism from above that inspires user-generated ideology from below.
Far-right demagogues can be found all over the world – offline and online. Let us consider some examples:
The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, who says ‘Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them’, has 4.3 million followers on Facebook. Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, says he’ll ‘eradicate Twitter’, while having more than 12.5 million followers there. India’s nationalist President Narendra Modi is with 43 million followers on Facebook and 40 million on Twitter one of the world’s most visible politicians on social media.
In a country with just nine million inhabitants, Austria’s far-right Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has around 800,000 Facebook-followers. Hungary’s far-right President Viktor Orbán announces to his 600,000 Facebook-followers the fight against the ‘flood of illegal and law violating migrants’. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders tweets to 950,000 followers that ‘less Islam is more freedom’. Marine Le Pen tells her 2 million Twitter followers that ‘immigration has weighed down wages’.
The Alternative for Germany tweets: ‘All three minutes a burglary in Germany! Time to act: Control of the nation’s borders and deportation of criminal migrants!’. UKIP’s Nigel Farage has 1.1 million followers on Twitter that he uses for posting messages such as the one that ‘EU migrant policies’ have created ‘the rape capital of Europe’ in Malmö.
Authoritarian capitalism has emerged in different parts of the world. But in these different contexts, it is neither the same nor completely different. Just like there are many capitalisms that are united by capital’s universalising tendency of commodification and exploitation, there is a unity in diversity of authoritarian capitalism. Vivek Chibber speaks of capitalism’s two universalisms that have emerged in the West and the Global South – ‘the universal logic of capital […] and social agents’ universal interest in their well-being, which impels them to resist capital’s expansionary drive. These forces impinge on both East and West, even if they do so with different intensities and in different registers’. Authoritarianism is capitalism’s third universalism, an ever-present potential that emerges at specific points as reaction to the first universalism’s economic, political and cultural contradictions and to the negation of the second universalism. Capitalism’s universalism turns out to be particularistic and shows its ugly face in the form of new nationalisms.
it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button worksDonald Trump is not just the world’s most powerful capitalist-turned-president, but with 48 million followers also the most visible far-right Twitter-politician. In addition, 24 million users follow him on Facebook, and 8.4 million on Instagram. Twitter is the capitalist universe of the individualist self: It is a me-centred medium that lives through the accumulation of followers, likes and re-tweets. The custom of liking and re-tweeting on Twitter appeals to Trump’s narcissism. Trump makes use of Twitter for broadcasting 140-character sound bites about what he likes, dislikes, loves, and hates. Reality TV (“The Apprentice”) and Twitter are Trump’s preferred two contemporary formats of public communication. Twitter supports narcissism and Trump’s “first person singular”-politics. Trump constructs himself as the great little man on Twitter.
Trump is a fake news machine. Fake news is as old as tabloid media and capitalist media. What is new about it is that on social media, we find user-generated fake news that are compressed into short tweets, messages, memes, images and videos and circulate at high speed through the globally networked communication environment of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Automated politics in the form of social media bots creates fake attention so that it becomes difficult to discern what is communicated by humans and what by machines.
For changing the world, we need a New Left. But a New Left also needs frameworks for understanding the world. For changing the world, we therefore need to also interpret it. My book Digital Demagogue takes an approach that combines critical political economy, ideology critique and political psychology for explaining the emergence of authoritarian capitalism and its ideology, organisations, movements and individuals.
There is no automatic connection between one’s economic position and political consciousness. The support of authoritarian movements is not just a matter of class structures and ideological efforts, but also has to do with the history of an individual’s personal, economic, political and cultural socialisation that makes him or her more or less affectually prone to far-right propaganda. Right-wing authoritarianism often intensifies in and after political-economic crises, but also involves conscious ideological projects that try to speak to human’s hopes, fears, desires, and aggressions. A critical theory of authoritarianism and nationalism needs to combine political economy, ideology critique, and political psychology. This was the approach taken by thinkers such as Franz L. Neumann, whose works remain highly topical in the age of Trump and have influenced the approach taken in writing Digital Demagogue.  
The only alternative and way of fighting back is the renewal of the Left under the premise of socialist humanism. Such politics require social reforms and media reforms. We need a socialist-humanist media politics that works towards introducing a participatory media fee, slow media, Club 2.0, the taxation of online advertising and transnational media corporations, outlawing targeted and behavioural political online advertising, the substitution of algorithmic activity by paid human work, the creation of an alternative Internet and a public service Internet, etc.
Authoritarian capitalism serves the few by selling nationalist and racist ideology to the many. And it does so with the help of online tools. We need an Internet and a world that serve the many, not the few. We need socialism and humanism. A new socialist humanism.
Christian Fuchs is a professor at the University of Westminster and co-editor of the journal tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. He is author of books such as Critical Theory of Communication, Reading Marx in the Information Age, Social Media: A Critical Introduction, OccupyMedia!, Digital Labour and Karl Marx, Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies, and Internet and Society.
Digital Demagogue: Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter is available in English from Pluto Press [distributed in North America by University of Chicago Press] and in German from VSA Verlag. On March 1, it will be launched at an event in London. 

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Books, community members posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being the 1%, or What It Means to Be Entitled

by Rachel Sherman

Most contemporary research on economic inequality focuses on the causes, contours, and consequences of unequal distributions of resources. But how they do such distributions become legitimate? Why do people accept them, and even take them for granted? Why is it okay for some people to have a lot, while others have so little? Drawing on evidence from my recent study of wealthy New Yorkers Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, this essay takes up one understudied facet of the problem: the concept of entitlement, especially in relation to the affluent.
In the United States, “entitlement” is usually a dirty word. For the poor, it is associated with stigmatized welfare dependence. More broadly—but particularly for the rich—to be “entitled” is to believe you are more important and deserve more than other people, to imagine the rules don’t apply to you, and to be unaware of your own advantages. In this sense, which I focus on here, the term actually connotes a lack of deservingness. But this colloquial, negative usage refers only to illegitimate entitlement. In fact, I’ll suggest that to mark some entitlement as illegitimate actually creates a category of legitimately entitled people: those who don’t act entitled. Think, for example, of Warren Buffett’s legendary down-to-earth affect and lifestyle or Bill Gates’ enormous philanthropy—perhaps contrasted to Donald Trump’s fake charities, ostentatious lifestyle, and braggadocio.

Understanding entitlement rhetoric

To back up for a moment: we might expect that inequality would be morally problematic in the United States, which has a deeply egalitarian ethos. In fact, as Leslie McCall has recently demonstrated using survey data, Americans do have a more critical view of inequality than scholars have usually recognized. But, she asserts, Americans mostly care about inequality as it may affect equality of opportunity, a concept closely linked to the American Dream.[1]
A central tenet of this culturally prominent and powerful ideology is its emphasis on hard work as leading to success. Crucial for my purposes here, the American Dream discourse not only suggests that hard work explains monetary success, but also that it legitimates such success morally. The notion of “meritocracy” implies not only that people are able to get ahead based on their hard work, but also that, if they do get ahead on that basis, they deserve the fruits of their labor.
Indeed, hard work as the bedrock of legitimate entitlement stands out in public discourses and policies about all kinds of entitlements. Poor people are cast as “undeserving” if they don’t work, in public opinion and in welfare policy.[2] Immigration advocates have often claimed that the hard work and economic contribution of immigrants are grounds for belonging even in the absence of citizenship.[3] And, of course, the idea that wealthy people work hard for their money is an argument for not taxing them further. In general, to have a strong work ethic emerges not only as a criterion for economic or political entitlement but also as a crucial measure of moral worth.[4]
Yet, despite producing a vast literature on Americans’ opinions about economic issues, scholars have rarely asked how advantaged people understand their own entitlement. Recent survey research has looked at the policy preferences of the top 1 percent,[5] for example, and much research has looked at the social boundaries elites use to exclude others.[6] But, despite a long history of qualitative research on working-class people’s lived experience, few scholars have explored wealthy people’s experience at all, much less how they feel about their privilege.
This neglect doubtless stems in part from the well-documented difficulty of gaining access to elites, especially for in-depth conversations.[7] Substantively, scholars may also imagine that wealthy people are untroubled about their privilege, that it is somehow “natural” to be comfortable with being at the top of the heap. Such an assumption is supported by social psychology experiments suggesting that rich people are more unethical, more narcissistic, less generous, and generally less “prosocial” than others.[8]
In fact, the few interview studies of the wealthy that have been done tend not to identify discomfort with inequality among respondents.[9] The wealthy women Susan Ostrander studied around 1980, for example, were quite complacent about their social advantages, even referring to themselves as “better” people than those in less elite communities.
But times have changed. As Shamus Khan has argued, meritocracy has displaced aristocracy as a criterion of legitimate privilege over the last few decades.[10] Most recently, beginning with the economic crisis of 2008 and especially with the emergence of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, critiques of inequality and specifically of “the 1 percent” have become prominent in public discourse. Thus, elites who have come of age in this period may have a new set of feelings and discourses about their own privilege.

Researching the 1 percent 

Uneasy Street Rachel ShermanTo investigate the lived experience of affluence in this generation, I conducted fifty interviews with wealthy New York parents, mostly in their thirties and forties, in forty-two households. All were college-educated, and two-thirds held advanced degrees. With a few exceptions, these respondents were in the top 2 percent of income or wealth or both; most were in the top 1 percent; a few were in the top tenth of 1 percent. The median income of the sample was about $625,000; the median wealth about $3.25 million. Earners in households supported primarily by earned wealth typically worked in finance, corporate law, or business. Those who lived on inherited wealth tended to work in the arts, nonprofits, and academia. Three-quarters of respondents were women; about one-fifth were people of color. They ranged from Republicans to people left of the Democratic Party, though most were socially liberal.[11] I talked with them about how they made consumption and lifestyle decisions, such as choosing kids’ schools and buying and renovating their homes, and in the course of these conversations I got a sense of how they felt and talked about their privilege.
As it turned out, my affluent respondents were quite aware of and often uncomfortable with their advantages over others. They wanted to be worthy of their privilege and were anxious not to be “entitled.” As we might expect, avoiding entitlement meant working hard. Those with highly paid, demanding jobs emphasized this labor. Even stay-at-home mothers and inheritors of wealth represented themselves as productive workers, explicitly resisting the “rich dilettante” stereotype.
But hard work was not the only dimension of meritocracy. Another critical aspect was reasonable consumption. My respondents repeatedly emphasized that they spent prudently, buying basics for their children and families rather than extravagances for themselves. They often described snagging bargains, but they never bragged about spending a lot. They strongly distinguished themselves from the materialistic, ostentatious spending often associated in the public mind with the rich.
In this way, they drew on the Protestant Ethic, which emphasizes discipline in consumption as well as in work. Prudent consumption thus emerges as another, though less frequently noted, dimension of meritocracy. Indeed, moral critiques of excess consumption are also directed at other “unworthies” such as the poor, including the iconic image of the “welfare queen” driving a Cadillac.
These New Yorkers also emphasized “giving back,” although they did this in different ways. Some gave away large amounts of money. Others—especially the stay-at-home mothers—volunteered, often at their children’s schools. For some, social responsibility took the more private form of being “aware” of their privilege and careful about how they talked about it with others. In fact, another criterion for deserving one’s advantages was not to mention them. My respondents thought discussing money with anyone, but especially with those who had less, was rude. They also claimed to treat other people well regardless of their class position.
Finally, to be worthy of one’s advantages meant to raise “good people”—children who were themselves not “entitled.” My interviewees wanted their children to be hard workers, rather than “lazy jerks,” in the words of one man with over $50 million in inherited wealth. Parents tried to limit children’s consumption and their consumer desires and expectations. They hoped to ensure that kids were “aware” of their privilege and to “expose” them to those with less, and they wanted to make sure they treated all others with respect and reciprocity. Although parents across class doubtless share some of these concerns, wealthy parents are ultimately preparing their children to occupy their class entitlements appropriately rather than challenging these in any way.[12]
It is hard to evaluate whether these respondents “truly” worked hard or consumed reasonably, since these concepts are relative. But what matters for my purposes is their desire to see themselves as hard workers and reasonable consumers who give back. These emphases also helped these parents cast themselves as “normal.” They used this word often, usually to signal a lack of excess in their lifestyles. In these ways, my respondents frame themselves as part of the morally worthy American middle-class, downplaying their elite status and distancing themselves from the images of lazy over-consumers that attach to both rich and poor.
These requirements of legitimate entitlement are not limited to these affluent New Yorkers. For example, social norms that proscribe talk of money and require equal treatment of everyone (the Golden Rule) are taken for granted in the United States; such norms ultimately silence and deny class difference. More specific to the rich, to have earned wealth oneself, to work hard, to eschew ostentation, to give back while keeping quiet, and in general to seem “normal” are all ways in which having wealth is legitimated broadly in American public discourse.


These ideas about the legitimate entitlement of individuals have important implications for legitimating inequality more generally, because making moral judgments of individual behaviors distracts us from any possibility of thinking about redistribution. First, such judgments reproduce evaluations of the legitimacy of wealth as an individual-level enterprise rather than having anything to do with systematic ways in which resources are unequally distributed. To judge wealthy people in these moral terms is analogous to judging poor people on the basis of their behavior—both tend to naturalize inequalities that are actually a function of social systems and structures.
Second, these legitimate entitlements have primarily to do with affect and behavior. As one stay-at-home mom with a household income of about $1 million put it, “entitlement” is a “feeling that you deserve it, because you were born into it, or had the right education, and [that] it should be this way.” That is, what matters is what individuals do and how they feel, not what they have. If they don’t act entitled, they become entitled. A recent example of this logic appeared in a New York Times column by James B. Stewart in November, in which he argued that “no one resents” J. K. Rowling’s “success” because she worked for it and is generous philanthropically.
Finally, to make these distinctions at all reproduces a system in which being astronomically wealthy is acceptable as long as wealthy people are morally good. If there are “bad” rich people, there can be “good” rich people.
What would it mean, instead, to say that we should be critical of the fact that J. K. Rowling is a billionaire—regardless of how she came by her fortune, how she spends it, or whether she gives it away—solely on the basis of the idea that such wealth is inseparable from extreme inequality, which is both pernicious for society and itself immoral? To try to separate ideas about individual moral behavior from those about material entitlement would, at the very least, shed light on deep cultural ambivalence about legitimate entitlement. At most, it could remove one of the cultural pillars that supports a radically unequal distribution of resources.

(This essay originally appeared on Items – the SSRC’s digital forum)
Rachel Sherman is associate professor of sociology at the New School. She teaches and conducts research on social inequalities, service work, consumption, social movements, and qualitative methods. Her books include Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (University of California Press, 2007) and Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence (Princeton University Press, 2017).

[1]  In The Undeserving Rich American Beliefs McCall points out that Americans’ understandings of equal opportunity include aspects other than hard work, such as fair pay.

[2] See: Martin Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy (University of Chicago Press, 1999); Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty: Fully Updated and Revised (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[3]  See, e.g., Bloemraad, Voss, and Lee, “The Protests of 2006,” in Rallying for Immigrant Rights, ed. Irene Bloemraad and Kim Voss (University of California Press, 2011), pp. 3–43.

[4]  See: Michèle Lamont, Money, Morals, and Manners (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Michèle Lamont, The Dignity of Working Men (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[5] Benjamin Paige, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright, “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 1 (2013): 51–73.

[6]  See, e.g., Diana Kendall, The Power of Good Deeds: Privileged Women and the Social Reproduction of the Upper Class(Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002); Jessica Holden Sherwood, Wealth, Whiteness, and the Matrix of Privilege: The View from the Country Club(Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013); Michèle Lamont, Money, Morals, and Manners (University of Chicago Press, 1992); Lauren Rivera, Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[7]  Benjamin Paige, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright, “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” Perspectives on Politics 11, no.1 (2013): 51–73.

[8] See: Paul K. Piff, “Wealth and the Inflated Self: Class, Entitlement, and Narcissism,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 40, no.1 (2014): 34–43; Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner, “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America 109, no. 11 (2012): 4086–4091; Paul K.. Piff, Michael W. Krauss, Stéphane Côté, Bonnie Hayden Cheng, and Dacher Keltner, “Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology99, no. 5 (2010): 771–784.

[9] Susan Ostrander, Women of the Upper Class (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984); Arlene Kaplan Daniels, Invisible Careers: Women Civic Leaders from the Volunteer World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Diana Kendall, The Power of Good Deeds: Privileged Women and the Social Reproduction of the Upper Class (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).

[10]  Shamus Rahman Khan, Privilege The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton University Press, 2012)

[11] I recruited respondents through snowball sampling. The sample is not representative of any wealthy population, however defined, in New York or elsewhere. 

[12] Sherman, “Conflicted Cultivation: Parenting, Privilege, and Moral Worth in Wealthy New York Families,” American Journal of Cultural Sociology 5, no. 1 (2017).

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Books, community members posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

BITS & BRIEFS: Fed boosted inequality // Fascism promised welfare // Super-citizens shape policy // Financial ‘self-help’ // Grade inflation in marketized university // India’s economic history

Gerald Epstein on how the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing helped the banks and increased inequality (video)

The appeal of Fascism lays in a promise to protect people in times of excessive and unrestrained Capitalism — by Sheri Berman

Super-citizens: how the ultra-rich’s charities shape policy to their own ends — on David Callahan’s book The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age

Finance sets you free: Producing the Neoliberal Self and glocalization of American “Self-Help” practices — Daniel Fridman on his new book Freedom from Work

The Fruits of Commodification: Grade inflation is just another byproduct of the marketized university — by Ed Burmila

India’s transition from a colonial economy: Falling behind and catching up — Bishnupriya Gupta’s lecture (video & podcast)

Ten ways to tell you might be sitting next to an economist 🙂 

sociology of money

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in BITS & BRIEFS | Leave a comment

Market Sentiment and the Ingenuity of the Markets

In a brilliant sketch by John Bird and John Fortune, aired during The South Bank Show on 14 October 2007, these British satirists trace the very workings of financial markets and the outbreak of the subprime crisis. Tragicomedy at its best…!

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Video | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Calling for Resistance: the Electronic Panopticon of Call Centers and the Neoliberal Future of Work

by Jamie Woodcock*

For Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, I spent six months working undercover in a call centre in the UK. Taking inspiration from workers’ inquiry – a Marxist method of co-research that combines knowledge production with organising – the aim was to understand how work is organised in call centres and how workers resist in this context.
A major difficulty with this kind of critical research on work is gaining access. The only way to do so was by going undercover, experiencing the call centre from the perspective of the labour process itself. Over the six months of ethnography, the book details the day-to-day experience of the work, the management techniques, the different moments of resistance, along with attempts to organise. It also includes the serendipitous discovery of finding another researcher in the workplace, although in this case a consultant hired for a very different purpose. This poses important questions about the politics of research, particularly within contexts like workplaces with antagonistic social and economic relationships.
Working the Phones control and resistance in call centersThe call centre that is the focus of the book was an outbound sales call centre. It shared the same conditions found in many call centres, a sector in which it is estimated around one million workers are employed in the UK. Most of the work at this call centre involved calling large numbers of people to try and sell life insurance. Although given the sales encounters were scripted, the product being sold really could have been anything. However, despite the scripting, the process of selling over the phone requires workers add emotions and humour to convince people to buy. This form of affective labour places new kinds of demands on workers to perform.
These demands are experienced in a context of control and surveillance. Call centres in general have become synonymous with technological forms of management. This specific call centre was target driven, with digitally recorded all phone calls, timed each part of the work to the second (including breaks), TV screens with real-time comparisons of worker performance, while backing these up with weekly one-to-one meetings with supervisors. The book returns to the analogy of the electronic Panopticon – the application of Bentham and Foucault’s writing on the architectural prison model – and its usefulness for analysing discipline and control in the call centre. The model remains useful for drawing attention to different processes of surveillance, although they are articulated through the exploitative relationships of work.
The risk of focusing on the methods of technological surveillance and control, along with the precarious contracts that offered almost no employment protection, is that the agency of the workers themselves can be greatly understated. The popular understanding of call centres – and one shared by many trade unionists – is that these are workplaces with particularly bad conditions, structural barriers to collectively organising, and remarkably high levels of turnover. These features were shared in the call centre, but over the six months a range of different moments of resistance emerged. These would have been difficult to notice without working undercover. These points of contestation were relatively closed acts of resistance, but provided the building blocks for collective organising.
In addition to these different moments of resistance, the problem of high turnover is reconsidered. Rather than seeing this feature as a structural barrier to organising, it is reconceived as an active expression of the refusal of work. After all, leaving work without permission is the first part of a strike – the difference here is that most workers do not see any value in setting demands that would have to be met before they returned. The later parts of the book discuss an attempt at organising alongside other workers, considering how forms of successful precarious organisation can emerge from the labour process in this kind of work.
The book focuses on a specific kind of work, albeit one that has become symptomatic of the shift from industrial labour to service work. For call centres, particularly outside of London in the UK, this often involves the setting up of operations in the shells of old industrial or mining warehouses. The high stress, low pay, and precarious contracts found in call centres are becoming increasingly common across different types of work. Similarly, the spread of technological methods of surveillance and control in call centres took place comparatively early because of the integration of telephones and computers, but are increasingly being applied in new contexts.
The call centre is therefore both a product of neoliberalism, but also an early testing ground for new managerial techniques. Analysing how these methods were introduced in call centres, along with the ways they have been resisted, is an important part of understanding the future of work. These methods are being utilised extensively in the so-called “gig economy”, with GPS-enabled technologies of control allowing companies like Uber and Deliveroo to manage dispersed and precarious workforces. Working the Phones provides a snapshot of the conditions of a call centre and the ways workers can resist, but it also attempts to pose a broader argument: there is a pressing need for more critical research on work. This kind of research needs to start from the point, as Marx argued in his call for A Workers’ Inquiry, that:

“workers… alone can describe with full knowledge the misfortunes form which they suffer and that only they, and not saviors sent by providence, can energetically apply the healing remedies for the social ills which they are prey.”

* Dr. Jamie Woodcock is a fellow at the LSE. He is the author of Working The Phones, a study of a call centre in the UK inspired by the workers’ inquiry. His current research involves developing this method in co-research projects with Deliveroo drivers and other digital workers in the so-called gig economy. He is on the editorial board of Historical Materialism.

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Books, community members posts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great academic opportunities: 20 calls for papers, 9 jobs, 5 doctoral fellowships, 3 summer schools, 4 postdoc positions, and 2 grants

Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great call for papersacademic opportunities: 19 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (some are fully or partially funded), 9 job openings, 5 doctoral fellowships, 3 summer schools (fully or partly funded), 4 postdoc and visiting positions, 2 research grants, and a call for papers for a special issue — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with February 4 — 28 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and studentsGood luck!

Calls for papers:

> CfP: “New Housing Challenges: Families and Financialization” workshop by the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Housing and Family Dynamics Working Group under European Network for Housing Research, Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague, Czech Republic), May 9-11, 2018. A reimbursement of costs up to 150 EUR will be offered to doctoral students or post-docs. DL: Feb 9

> CfP: “Inequality and Uncertainty: Current Challenges for Cities“, the 3rd mid-term conference of the European Sociological Association RN 37 – Urban Sociology, National Distance Education University, Madrid (Spain), 27-29th  June, 2018. DL: Feb 10

CfP: “Finance in the 21st Century“, the INET YSI Financial Stability working group workshop for  PhD students and junior researchers, Norwegian Business School BI (Oslo, Norway), April 14, 2018. The workshop follows the “Rethinking Finance” conference (12-13 April) and the workshop participants will get a free admission to the conference. Limited travel support and accommodation will be offered. DL: Feb 10

> CfP: “Putting Sociology to Work: Interdisciplinarity, intersectionality and imagination”, the Work, Employment & Society conference, Belfast (Northern Ireland), 12-14 September, 2018. A Doctoral Workshop will take place on Sep 11. CfP: Feb 19

> CfP: “Paradigms of Economic Policies: Example and Lessons from the Nordics“, the EAEPE and INET YSI symposium, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim, Norway). Participation and dinner are free. DL: Feb 20.

> CfP: “Institutions and Communities in the History of Economic Thought”, the INET YSI working group on the History of Economic Thought workshop for PhD students and junior researchers, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, (Spain), 6 June, 2018. The workshop will run a day before the ESHET Conference (7-9 June). Successful candidates will be considered for  travel and accommodation stipends. DL: Feb 23

> CfP: “Inclusion and Exclusion: New Perspectives in History and Sociology“, the 10th Seminar of the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany, 5–7 July 2018. A financial support will be given to selected graduate students (accommodation and a portion of the travel expenses). DL: Feb 25

> CfP: “Alternatives Futures and Popular Protests“, the 23rd Manchester Metropolitan University’s Social Movement conference (Manchester, UK), March 26-28, 2018. DL: Feb 26 

> CfP: “Transforming Our Lives. Transforming the World“, The 3rd International Marxist-Feminist Conference, Lund University (Sweden), 6-7 October. 2018. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Welfare Societies in Transition: Polanyi Revisited through the Lens of Welfare State, Social Democracy and Solidarity Economy“, the 3rd EMES-Polanyi International Seminar, Roskilde University (Denmark), April 16 – 17, 2018. A limited number of accommodation and travel grants are available. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “What Makes a Job Good or Bad? Standards of Good Work Revisited” seminar, IUC Dubrovnik (Croatia), April 3-7, 2018. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Innovation, Catch-up, and Sustainable Development”, the 17th International Joseph Schumpeter Society conference, Seoul National University (South Korea), 2-4 July, 2018. Some financial support will be provided for the selected graduate students or young scholars particularly from developing countries. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Space and Poverty​“, the Salzburg Conference in Interdisciplinary Poverty Research , University of Salzburg (Austria), 13-14 September, 2018. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Putting the Social Back into Economics”, the 16th World Congress of the Association for Social Economics, Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA), June 11-13, 2018. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “The Global Knowledge of Economic Inequality: The Measurement of Income and Wealth Distribution since 1945” conference, German Historical Institute London (UK), 15-17 November, 2018. Economy travel and accommodation in London will be available for accepted speakers. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “The Bare Necessities: Histories of Provisioning from the Second World War to the Present” workshop, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin, Germany), June 7–8, 2018. Limited funding is available. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Futures Past: Economic Forecasting in the 20th and 21st Century”  conference by “Experience and Expectation: Historical Foundations of Economic Behaviour” Programme, University of Hamburg (Germany), 10-11 October, 2018. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: “Political Incentives and Development Outcomes“, the Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics, Washington, DC, June 25-26, 2018. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: The History of Economics Society Annual Conference, Loyola University, (Chicago, USA), 14-17 June, 2018. The HES provides support for several young scholars to present papers in the form of free registration and a year’s membership. Some of the awardees will also receive a grant of $500 to cover travel and other costs. DL: Feb 28

Calls for contributions to special issues:

> CfP for a special issue “The Organizational Aspects of Corporate and Organizational Crime“, Administrative Science. DL: Feb 28

PhD scholarships:

13 Doctoral Scholarships on “Global Dynamics of Social Policy” at University of Bremen (Bremen, Germany). DL: Feb 20

PhD stipend in “Women workers’ experiences in the gig economy: security, flexibility, labour process and pay/conditions“, University of Lincoln (UK). DL: Feb 26

> 8 Doctoral Positions in Economic Sociology and Political Economy, The International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, University of Cologne and University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany). Recommended! DL: Feb 28.

15 positions for a 3-year fully funded PhD program within the EuroAgeism network aimed at exploring ways to improve the participation of older adults in the workforce and addressing ageism in relation to access to services.  Doctoral positions are available in universities in Israel, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Poland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Belgium. DL: Feb 28 

15 PhD positions offered by the eight universities participating in “Global Mobility of Employees” research project. DL: Feb 28

Summer schools:

> CfP: “Work, Employment and Inequality“, the European Consortium for Sociological Research spring school, Collegio Carlo Alberto (Turin, Italy), 19–23 March, 2018. The School is free; hotel and meals will be provided. DL: Feb 4

> CfP: Summer School of Marxian Economics, Keio University (Tokyo, Japan), 7–15 August, 2018. The costs for tuition and one-day excursion will be covered. DL: Feb 28

> CfP: Summer School on Social Economics for graduate students and recent PhDs, Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA), 9-10 June, 2018. The School to be held in conjunction with the ASE congress on June 11-12. 15 scholarships will be awarded to attend the summer school (room, board, discounted registration). DL: Feb 28

Postdoctoral and visiting positions:

Heilbroner Fellow in Capitalism Studies (one-year position) at The New School for Social Research, New York (USA). The wanted areas of specialization are financialization, work and social reproduction, post-capitalism, racial capitalism, infrastructures of capitalism, precarity and informality, and more. DL: Feb 15

Post-Doctoral fellows, The Higher School of Economics Center for Institutional Studies (Moscow, Russia), in the following areas:  Banking, Higher Education Studies, Economics or Sociology of Education, Economic History, and more. DL: Feb 15

5 Post-Doctoral Researchers “Global Dynamics of Social Policy” (3 years positions), University of Bremen (Bremen, Germany). DL: Feb 20

> Post-doctoral position on the political causes of welfare state development in emerging market economies, Department of Sociology, Koç University (Istanbul, Turkey). DL: Feb 28

Job openings:

Barnett Professorship of Social Policy, Department of Social Policy and Intervention in association with St. Cross College, University of Oxford. DL: Feb 12

University Assistant (Prae Doc) at the Department of Economic Sociology, University of Vienna. A successful candidate is expected to sign a doctoral thesis agreement within 12-18 months. DL: Feb 14

Lecturer in economic sociology / social networks (full-time, permanent position) at Department of Social Science, University College London. DL: Feb 16

Director of the Society, Work, and Development Institute (SWOP), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (South Africa). DL: Feb 16

> Lecturer specializing in social inequalities (full-time, permanent), Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. DL: Feb 18

Assistant Professor of Political Science with a focus on Business and Politics, The University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. DL: Feb 18

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy, King’s College London – European & International Studies. DL: Feb 26

Chair of International Political Economy, King’s College London – European & International Studies. DL: Feb 26

Professor/Associate Professor in Culture, Organization and Management (2 positions), Copenhagen Business School (Denmark). Holders of the positions will undertake research and teaching in culture and organization, culture and economics, culture and entrepreneurship, and more. DL: Feb 28 

Research grants:

Political Economy Research Fellowship Competition by The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) to support independent-minded researchers studying economies across the whole range of the social sciences. The work would be conceptually innovative, interdisciplinary, and unlikely to be funded by existing funding bodies. DL: February 16

The Bill & Connie Nobles Fellowship for the study of alternatives to hierarchy in organizing the activities of corporations, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, University in Piscataway (New Jersey, USA). Doctoral candidates and pre/post tenure scholars in the social sciences and humanities may apply for the $25,000 stipend that can be used for research/travel expenses. DL: Feb 28

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in Academic announcements | Leave a comment

Foucault: Neoliberalism is not laissez-faire, but permanent vigilance, activity, and intervention

The Birth of BiopoliticsThe following Michel Foucault’s sharp insights on neoliberalism were presented during his lecture series “The Birth of Biopolitics” at the Collège de France in 1979 — a few months before Thatcher and Reagan took power, but several decades after Walter Lippmann, Wilhelm Röpke, Alexander Rüstow, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mise, and Milton Friedman articulated, formulated, and then vigorously disseminated their ideas.
Neo-liberalism is not Adam Smith; neo-liberalism is not market society; neo-liberalism is not the Gulag on the insiduous scale of capitalism.
So, what is this neo-liberalism?… The problem of neo-liberalism was not how to cut out or contrive a free space of the market within an already given political society, as in the liberalism of Adam Smith and the eighteenth century. The problem of neo-liberalism is rather how the overall exercise of political power can be modeled on the principles of a market economy. So it is not a question of freeing an empty space, but of taking the formal principles of a market economy and referring and relating them to, of projecting them on to a general art of government. This, I think, is what is at stake, and I tried to show you that in order to carry out this operation, that is to say, to discover how far and to what extent the formal principles of a market economy can index a general art of government, the neo-liberals had to subject classical liberalism to a number of transformations.
The first of these… was basically that of dissociating the market economy from the political principle of laissez-faire. I think this uncoupling of the market economy and laissez-faire policies was achieved, or was defined,at any rate, its principle was laid down, when the neo-liberals put forward a theory of pure competition in which competition was not presented as in any way a primitive and natural given, the very source and foundation of society that only had to be allowed to rise to the surface and be rediscovered as it were. Far from it being this, competition was a structure with formal properties, [and] it was these formal properties of the competitive structure that assured, and could assure, economic regulation through the price mechanism… Neoliberalism should not therefore be identified with laissez-faire, but rather with permanent vigilance, activity, and intervention.” (Foucault 2008: 131-2)
Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979. Palgrave Macmillan.
Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr
Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BITS & BRIEFS: How the Great Regression began // Leisure for the sake of capitalism // Inequality Paradigm // Evictions never end // Precarity and fast food // State-regulated prostitution

Wolfgang Streeck: “Neoliberalism arrived with globalization or else globalization arrived with neoliberalism; that is how the Great Regression began… Whoever puts a society under economic or moral pressure to the point of dissolution reaps resistance from its traditionalists.”


© Stephan Walter

The rhetoric about leisure being “restorative” emerged since capitalism firstly set us to be productive — by Miya Tokumitsu

Mike Savage: We’re seeing a new ‘Inequality Paradigm’ in social science, and it has to be amplified

Their “American Dream” is in the hands of their landlords. Eviction is the core of American poverty, compellingly shows and asserts Matthew Desmond

Eating unhealthy fast food is associated more with how many hours or jobs your work than with low income per se, a new study finds

> On state-regulated prostitution in the Middle East in the interwar period: the local planning of global mobility — Liat Kozma on her book Global Women, Colonial Ports

Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+ / Instagram / Tumblr

Posted in BITS & BRIEFS | Leave a comment