The History of Financial Advice (AHRC funded project)
Coin and Conscience: Popular View of Money, Credit and Speculation (Baker Library, Harvard Business School)
Bubbles, Panics and Crashes: A Century of Financial Crises, 1830s – 1930s (Baker Library, Harvard Business School)
Buy Now, Pay Later: A History of Personal Credit (Baker Library, Harvard Business School)
Money and Art (Max Haiven)
Library of Mistakes (Edinburgh)
Economy Exhibition (Edinburgh)
To Have and To Owe (New York)
It’s the Political Economy, Stupid (Exhibition, ACFNY)
L’Economie: Krash, Boom, Mue (Exhibition, Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie, Paris)
Bubbles and bankruptcy: Financial crises in Britain since 1700 (British Museum)
Angus Cameron, Xenotopia blog
Public Understanding of Finance (Open University)
Crosthwaite, Knight and Marsh, “Imagining the Market: A Visual History,” Public Culture, 24.3 (2012): 607-28. [Draft version available here]
Cohen, Rachel. “Gold, Golden, Gilded, Glittering: Representations of Value, or the Unexpected Double History of Banking and the Art World,” The Believer 94 (November/December 2012). [available online here]
De Cock, C., Baker, M. & Volkmann, C.R. (2011) ‘Financial Phantasmagoria: Corporate Image-Work in Times of Crisis’, Organization, 18 (2) [doi:10.1177/1350508410388681]
De Cock, C., Fitchett, J. & Volkmann, C (2009). ‘Myths of a Near Past: Envisioning Finance Capitalism anno 2007’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 9 (1), 8-25. [http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/9-1/9-1decocketal.pdf]
Jones, Campbell. ‘Should finance capital be afraid of art?’ Public talk at Artspace, Aukland, NZ.
Kinkle, Jeff and Alberto Toscano (2011) ‘Filming the Crisis: A Survey’. Film Quarterly 65(1): 39-51.
Meissner, Miriam. “Portraying the global financial crisis: Myth, aesthetics, and the city,” NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies
Power, Nina, and Michael Sayeau. 2009. “Show Me the Money.” Frieze 126
Sholette, Gregory and Oliver Ressler, eds, It’s the Political Economy, Stupid
The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory (London: Pluto, 2013)
Toscano, Alberto. “Gaming the Plumbing: High-Frequency Trading and the Spaces of Capital”
Keynes Beauty Contest
Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth, and higher degrees.
—John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936), 156.
“the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”
By 2007, the international financial system was trading derivatives valued at one quadrillion dollars per year. This is 10 times the total worth, adjusted for inflation, of all products made by the world’s manufacturing industries over the last century.
Sebastian Faulks, A Week in December
At the far end of the room, a queue had formed and was waiting, cocktail in hand, to go behind a screen into a room with a low light, like that reserved for the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
Consulting her catalogue, Sophie saw that it contained something called Cash Cow, 2007. ‘Arguably the most daring piece undertaken by a contemporary artist, Cash Cow is a mixed-media piece made from sterling banknotes and lutetium, the rarest metal in the world (symbol Lu, atomic number 71). The materials alone cost in excess of PS4 million. “I wanted to challenge people’s preconceptions about art,” says Liam Hogg.
‘Please note. Guests may spend no more than thirty seconds each in front of this exhibit.’
Sophie Topping was determined not to miss Cash Cow. When she had queued for twenty minutes, Lance told her he was going home and she told him she’d catch a taxi later.
Eventually it was her turn in the pink half-light, and she stood alone at last before the exhibition centrepiece. It was a life-size model of a cow in a glass case. It was coloured pink and had flaky silver-coloured horns and silver eyes, which gave it an odd, blinded look. This was the lutetium, presumably.
John Lanchester, “Melting Into Air”
There’s something almost nineteenth century about Buffett’s writing on finance—calm, sane, and literate. It’s not a tone you’ll readily find in anyone else’s company reports, letters to shareholders, public filings, or press releases. That’s because finance, like other forms of human behavior, underwent a change in the twentieth century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts—a break with common sense, a turn toward self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn’t be explained in workaday English. In poetry, this moment took place with the publication of “The Waste Land.” In classical music, it was, perhaps, the première of “The Rite of Spring.” Jazz, dance, architecture, painting—all had comparable moments. The moment in finance came in 1973, with the publication of a paper in the Journal of Political Economy titled “The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities,” by Fischer Black and Myron Scholes. . . .
If the invention of derivatives was the financial world’s modernist dawn, the current crisis is unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism. For anyone who studied literature in college in the past few decades, there is a weird familiarity about the current crisis: value, in the realm of finance capital, evokes the elusive nature of meaning in deconstructionism. According to Jacques Derrida, the doyen of the school, meaning can never be precisely located; instead, it is always “deferred,” moved elsewhere, located in other meanings, which refer and defer to other meanings—a snake permanently and necessarily eating its own tail. This process is fluid and constant, but at moments the perpetual process of deferral stalls and collapses in on itself. Derrida called this moment an “aporia,” from a Greek term meaning “impasse.” There is something both amusing and appalling about seeing his theories acted out in the world markets to such cataclysmic effect.
Michael Lewis, Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code (London: Allen Lane, 2014)
Brad and his team [the heroes of the book, who are trying to work out why the market doesn’t behave like it used to, because of HFT] were building a menal picture of the financial markets after the crisis. The market was now a pure abstraction. It called to mind no obvious picture to replace the old one that people still carried around in their heads. The same old ticker tape ran across the bottom of the television screens—even though it represented only a tiny fraction of the actual trading. Market experts still reported from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, even though trading no longer happened there.
No mental picture existed of the new financial market. There was only this yellowing photograph of a market now dead that served as a stand-in for the living.
The U.S. stock market now has a class system, rooted in speed, of haves and have-nots. The haves paid for nanoseconds; the have-nots had no idea that a nanosecond had value. The haves enjoyed a perfect view of the market; the have-nots never saw the market at all. What had once been the world’s most public, most democratic, financial marker had become, in spirit, something more like a private viewing of a stolen work of art.
Don DeLillo, Players (1977)
There was sanity here, even at the wildest times. It was all worked out. There were rules, standards, and customs. In the electronic clatter it was possible to feel you were part of a breath-takingly intricate quest for order and elucidation, for identity among the constituents of a system. Everyone reconnoitred toward a balance. After the cries of the floor brokers, the quotes, the bids, the cadence and peal of an auction market, there was always a final price, good or bad, a leveling out of the world’s creaturely desires.
The district grew repeatedly inward, more secret, an occult theology of money, extending ever deeper into its own veined marble. Unit managers accrued and stockpiled. Engineers shampooed the vaults. At the inmost crypt might be heard the amplitude pulse of history, a system and rite to outshadow the evidence of men’s senses.
Lyle sometimes carried yellow teleprinter slips with him for days. He saw in the numbers and stock symbols an artful reduction of the external world to printed output, the machine’s coded model of exactitude. One second of study, a glance was all it took to return to him an impression of reality disconnected from the resonance of his own senses. Aggression was refined away, the instinct to possess. He saw fractions, decimal points, plus and minus signs. A picture of the competitive mechanism of the world, of greasy teeth engaging on the rim of a wheel, was nowhere in evidence. The paper contained nerve impulses: a synaptic digit, a phoneme, a dimensionless point. He knew that people want to see their own spittle dripping from the lacy openwork of art. On the slip of paper in his hand there was no intimation of lives defined by the objects around them, morbid tiers of immortality. Inked figures were all he saw. This was property in its own right, tucked away, his particular share (once removed) of the animal body breathing in the night.
He looked … toward streams of numbers running in opposite directions. He understood how much it meant to him, the roll and flip of data on a screen. He studied the figural diagrams that brought organic patterns into play, birdwing and chambered shell. It was shallow thinking to maintain that numbers and charts were the cold compression of unruly human energies, every sort of yearning and midnight sweat reduced to lucid units in the financial markets. In fact data itself was soulful and glowing, a dynamic aspect of the life process. This was the eloquence of alphabets and numeric systems, now fully realized in electronic form, in the zero-oneness of the world, the digital imperative that defined every breath of the planet’s living billions. Here was the heave of the biosphere. Our bodies and oceans were here, knowable and whole.
I know there’s a thousand things you analyze every ten minutes. Patterns, ratios, indexes, whole maps of information. I love information. This is our sweetness and light. It’s a fuckall wonder. And we have meaning in the world. People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do.
He thought of the people who used to visit his website back in the days when he was forecasting stocks, when forecasting was pure power, when he’d tout a technology stock or bless an entire sector and automatically cause doublings in share price and shifting of worldviews, when he was effectively making history.
There’s a rumor it seems involving the finance minister. He’s supposed to resign any time now…. Some kind of scandal about a misconstrued comment. He made a comment about the economy that may have been misconstrued. The whole country is analyzing the grammar and syntax of this comment. Or it wasn’t even what he said. It was when he paused. They are trying to construe the meaning of the pause. It could be deeper, even, than grammar. It could be breathing…. So the whole economy convulses … because the man took a breath.
He knew there was something no one had detected, a pattern latent in nature itself, a leap of pictorial language that went beyond the standard models of technical analysis and out-predicted even the arcane charting of his own followers in the field. There had to be a way to explain the yen.
He knew the yen could not go any higher. He explained that there were levels it could not reach. The market knew this. There were oscillations and shocks that the market tolerated to a certain point but not beyond. The yen itself knew it could not go higher.
π (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 1998)
Restate my assumptions. One: Mathematics is the language of nature. Two: Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. Three: If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: The cycling of disease epidemics. The wax and wane of caribou populations. Sunspot cycles. The rise and fall of the Nile. So what about the stock market? The universe of numbers that represents the global economy. Millions of hands at work … billions of minds … a vast network, screaming with life. An organism. A natural organism. My hypothesis: Within the stock market, there is a pattern as well. Right in front of me, hiding behind the numbers. Always has been.
“if one could be sure that a price will rise, it would have already risen”
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Manuel du spéculateur à la Bourse (“Manual of the Stock Exchange Speculator”) (1857)
“That is where the philosopher, the economist, the statesman must study the hidden motivating forces of civilization, learn how to solve the enigmas of history, and to foresee cataclysms.”
Žižek, The Ticklish Subject
There is no “Invisible Hand” whose mechanism, blind as it may be, somehow re-establishes the balance; no Other Scene in which the accounts are properly kept, no fictional Other Place in which, from the perspective of the Last Judgement, our acts will be properly located and accounted for. Not only do we not know what our acts will in fact amount to, there is even no global mechanism regulating our interactions – this is what the properly “postmodern” nonexistence of the big Other means…. Individuals who are still caught in the traditional modernist paradigm are desperately looking for another agency which one could legitimately elevate into the position of the Subject Supposed to Know, and which would somehow guarantee our choice: ethical committees, the scientific community itself, government authority, up to the paranoiac big Other, the secret invisible Master of conspiracy theories.
Mark C. Taylor, Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World Without Redemption (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 245-246
If prices immediately reflect all available information, future developments are discounted in the current prices of stocks. As a result of the speed with which information is disseminated, the market “knows” more than any individual at any given time. The market, in other words, has something like a mind of its own, which emerges from but is not reducible to the individuals who comprise it. Furthermore, the market is believed to incorporate all the information available at the moment and thus to be effectively omniscient. When understood in this way, the mind of the market appears to be the functional equivalent of the mind of God, whose all-knowing invisible hand creates and maintains order in what would otherwise be a chaotic universe.
Christian Marazzi, Capital and Language (2002)
the financial markets … are self-referential. Prices are the expression of the action of collective opinion, the individual investor does not react to information but to what he believes will be the reaction of the other investors in the face of that information. It follows that the values of securities listed on the stock exchange make reference to themselves and not to their underlying economic value. This is the self-referential nature of the markets, in which the disassociation between economic and exchange value is symmetrical to the disassociation between individual belief and collective belief
Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero (1987; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 95
The conventional vector of causality and necessity which points from trade to finance, from things to money, has been reversed: it is the financial tail that wags the dog of economy and trade…. This overturning of traditional causality, whereby the dynamics of purely monetary events influences the course of world trade rather than the reverse, where the epi-phenomenon and the phenomenon are interchanged, is, in terms of signs, very familiar. It is the result of what has persistently presented itself as the loss of anteriority.
Capitalist Realism 2.0, the most audacious confidence trick in recent political history: make the poor and vulnerable pay for the bank crisis. Use the crisis as a pretext to destroy even more of the welfare state.
A typical education in the west leaves you with more insight into ancient Rome or Egypt than into our financial system – and while there are plenty of books and DVDs for lay people about, say, quantum mechanics, evolution or the human genome, before the crash there was virtually nothing to explain finance to outsiders in accessible language. The City, as John Lanchester put it in his book about the 2008 crash, Whoops!, is still “a far-off country of which we know little”. As a result, ordinary people trying to form an opinion about finance over the past decades have had very little to go on, and many seem to have latched on to the images provided by films and TV.