Graduate Course: Anthropology 268A: Rethinking Capitalism 2010
Anthropology 268A Syllabus 2010
Can a project like Marx’s be restated for the 21st century using the option, rather than the commodity, as the kernel of value? Marx’s substantive stress on the primacy of productive labor suggests that he might have viewed today’s options, and other purely financial products, as “fictitious capital.” But since 1973, the techniques that financial engineers use to manufacture options that are identical with the techniques for pricing them. As financial products, and the markets in them, play a larger, role in capitalist economies, we must ask what effect their production and exchange has on the materiality of capitalism itself. Is the market itself a technology for producing a price? If so, what is the difference between accounting for value and producing it? These questions arise in the spirit of Marx, who saw that the technologies of accounting operate within the process of commodification they purport to describe. How do new financial technologies affect our view of worlds as epistemic structures that are both material and affective? This course relates “Rethinking Capitalism” in the context of financialization to a need to also rethink Marxism as a project for the 21st century.
Graduate Course: Anthropology 268B: Rethinking Capitalism 2010
Anthropology 268B Syllabus 2010
Our first broad topic is valuation. What is the effect of accounting techniques, and notions of accountability as such, on the on the processes through which value is created? Is value-production distinguishable, in principle or in practice, from the process of evaluation? What is the relation between knowing how to construct (replicate) something and knowing its value? This part of the course will deal with conceptions of value/valuation in philosophy and economics, and their counterparts in law and theology. It will also deal directly with anthropological studies of counting and accounting as cultural practices to which commercial activity has varying relationships.
The relation between valuation and our second topic, regulation, is not simple: it reflects the mutual embeddedness of the ‘market’ and the ‘state’ in late capitalism, and provides a window onto political economy as a whole. We will focus on the ways in which options theory, as an approach to bot, valuation and regulation has created new modalities of public intervention and new barriers to its effectiveness. Using some the techniques developed by the hybrid field of law and economics, we will consider the relations between gambling, hedging, speculating and investing and whether regulation has on the sustainability of capitalism as we know it. Our concern will be with the sustainability bias exhibited by all form of regulation, and whether the valuation process introduces tendencies that are at odds with that bias.
Our final topic, apocalypse, draws on the resources of political theology and literary theory to consider the narrative that options-based capitalism is now constructing for itself. After reading Smith, Mill, Schumpeter, Luxemburg and others on the future of capitalism (capitalism as transitional), we will ask what it would mean to regard capitalism as unsustainable and then want to prolong it (rather than hasten its end) through regulating the foreseeable conditions leading to its demise. The course concludes by asking what kind of political praxis this would give us, and what kind we should seek.
Graduate Course: Anthropology 268B: Rethinking Capitalism 2011
Anthropology 268B Syllabus 2011
Our focus this year will be on debt. The obvious reason is that the financial collapse of 2007-2009 now manifests itself as a series of “crises” related to personal debt, government debt and bank debt. Although we will address these crises throughout the term, the course as a whole will consider debt as a kernel that grows into both the market and the state, and that is fundamental to the relation between them.
Why rethink capitalism today in terms of debt? It allows us rethink the relation of free labor to bondage. A growing proportion of workers around the world are being sold loans in addition to being paid wages. In classical Marxism the wage can be considered apremium a capitalist pays to purchase an option on the value the workers’ product–the capitalist has bought a call on the surplus value, which he then appropriates without further exchange. Today, however, the worker can financialize expected fudture wages to borrow far larger amounts from what is now a global financial services industry. Debt service thus becomes a new need on the part of the worker and a way for the financial system to extract surplus value from his future earnings. Is this a democratization of finance or a new form of indentured labor? The credit mechanism must now be studied alongside the wage mechanism as a means of reproducing and increasing economic inequality.
Although this course will be framed by the academic literature on these issues, I hope our discussion will also be political. I want to understand why the failure of our financial system has resulted in an apparently successful revolt by bond markets and taxpayers against the deficit spending that was used by government to bail out the financial system. Is there a different, more redemptive, narrative of the history we have lived, perhaps similar to the Communist Manifesto, that will focus of debt bondage alongside wage labor, and will point toward a post-capitalist future–a reason for saving the world–that does not reconcile us to prolonging what we have until it ends? To satisfy your writing requirement I will accept a Manifesto that reflects an analysis of capitalism today or a scholarly paper developing aspects of such an analysis.
Undergraduate Course: POLI-139A Market Crisis & The Future of Capitalism
This course examines the development and role of late 20th and early 21st century financial technologies in modern market crises. A rigorous approach to this topic requires an overview of financial markets (securities, OTC and exchange-traded derivatives), modern finance theory (portfolio theory, capital asset and options pricing models), related regulatory institutions (SEC, CFTC, FDIC, etc.), and an inquiry into what, if any, are their role in recent national and global financial crises. Why are there financial crises? What is the relation of financial technologies to financial crisis? What is the relation of human behavior to financial crisis? What is the future of market capitalism?
This course aims to transcend the traditional and often unhelpful distinction between “conservative” and “progressive”, or “right-wing” vs. “left-wing” perspectives on finance and market capitalism, and in this respect seeks to pursue its object of analysis in much the same way a scientist would proceed –coolly, tentatively, perspicaciously, analytically, and relatively unencumbered by a specific political disposition. Students in this course are asked to bracket their personal views and opinions on finance, financial technologies, and market capitalism, upon entering the classroom each day so that we might better learn about and discuss them. Careful attention to the themes of this course, as well as maintaining an open, contemplative, and analytical disposition, will result in a historically and theoretically informed understanding of market crisis & the future of capitalism.
Undergraduate Course: POLI-139B Materialism & Financial Markets
This course is a continuation of POLI-139A (Market Crisis & the Future of Capitalism), and so further examines the development and role of late 20th and early 21st century financial technologies in modern market crises –but now with the explicit goal of developing a research agenda capable of analyzing 21st century finance capitalism. A rigorous approach to doing so requires two steps: First, an in-depth look at (a) the manner in which debt is produced, structured, marketed, circulated, and consumed by way of bond instruments, securitization, and various structured financial products, (b) the role of derivatives markets (OTC, clearing-housed, and exchange-traded) therein, and (c) their role, if any, in the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its recent aftermath. Secondly, the course can then begin to theorize our aforementioned objects of analysis, and pose the question of what, if anything, a materialist theory of finance capitalism might bring to a critical analysis of capital, credit, and money markets? This course will culminate in a 20-40 page research paper on a topic of the student’s choosing.