What is financialization? Marxism, Post-Keynesianism and Economic Sociology’s complementary theorizing

The economic crisis erupted in 2007-2008, commonly known around the world as the Global Financial Crisis and in the US as the Great Recession, highlighted – for those who deliberately or unintentionally have in recent years overlooked it – the ascendancy of finance, a process and phenomenon that are often described as financialization. In my view, Financialization refers to the capturing impact of financial markets, institutions, actors, instruments and logics on the real economy, labor, households and daily life. Essentially it has significant implications for the broader patterns and functioning of a (inter)national economy, transforming its fabrics and modificating the mutual embeddedness of state-economy-society. Financialization is also a key feature of Neoliberalism and, as the latter, it is a state project.
In the enlightening article “Theorizing financialization” (open access)Costas Lapavitsas (University of London; Syriza’s adviser and parliament member) thoroughly reviews economic and sociological literature on  this concept, and argues that the relationship between finance and production is more complex than is often assumed.  According to Lapavitsas, there are mediating processes between the two that have to be analysed in their own right, if the concept of financialization is to have explanatory power. Financialization, furthermore, has implications for employment, work and the conditions of life of workers.
In an accessible manner, Lapavitsas discusses several approaches to financialization and the crisis, paying particular attention to Marxist, post-Keynesian and other heterodox treatments, which have significant overlaps with economic sociology (see Greta Krippner’s path-breaking workThe financialization of the American economy“). On this basis, he develops a theoretical view of financialization as systemic transformation of capitalism with three interrelated features, by drawing on the methodological approach of classical Marxism, especially that of Hilferding, while remaining mindful of the recent crisis. First, large corporations rely less on banks and have acquired financial capacities; second, banks have shifted their activities toward mediating in open financial markets and transacting with households; third, households have become increasingly involved in the operations of finance. The sources of capitalist profit have also changed accordingly.

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  1. Interesting article, thanks. Perhaps the most noteworthy point is that “large corporations rely less on banks and have acquired financial capacities” – an issue likely to become increasingly important over the coming years. The record profits posted by Apple last week spring immediately to mind in this context. In an age where corporations are becoming more powerful than states, problems of inequality and misallocation of resources will be continually exacerbated until we redefine how states and societies are organised.

    On a different note, clear definition of the terms used in political debate is often lacking so articles like this are very welcome!


  2. Krippner’s article on financialization defines finance not ony as loans or control of corporation although much her article discusses the question of who is in control, the focus of her article examines where profits are generated in the US economy but only analyzes aggregated data.

    I was at the pump today and the price had gone up for the first time in months. So, I wondered why the price did not decrease and looked through some old papers. I ran across Masters (2008) mentioned in James Hamilton’s article on the 2008 Oil Shock in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Spring 2009.

    Hamilton describes the term ‘financialization’ as speculation and gives the example where investment banks purchase a commodity as a financial asset. As a futures trade, they take the long view on a near-term futures contract and sell higher than the buy price a week before the expiry date. Then repeat. They do not take delivery. The number of buys always exceeds the number of sells which drives up the futures price and the spot price. Apparently, late investors must recover their cost and so the price increases. Hamilton discusses the ‘speculative price path.’

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