The End of Finance?

Among Japanese financial market professionals I know, there is a pervasive sense that the era of finance has ended. No technical innovation of the kind that led to the global financial crisis of 2007-08 will happen in the near future, they assert. Of course, this assertion can easily be contested. The rule of the game in this industry is that the more government interventions and regulations are imposed, the more profit (or arbitrage) opportunities will be created in the markets because regulations distort prices. And perhaps dreams of manipulating and restructuring the whole world through the self-consciously narrow perspective of finance will energize financial market professionals, once again, to take potentially personally and socially disastrous courses of action. After all, we know that capitalism is an endless process of value creation and destruction until it is no more.

In my view, however, there is something to gain analytically as well as ethnographically in dwelling on many financial market professionals’ sense of an end. For many of them, personally, this marks the end of their professional career. It is interesting to ask what this means to them practically as well as intellectually. This is precisely what finance does in the world. It is created by and creates people’s dreams, failures and renewed efforts to move forward. Not understanding those fundamentally human dimensions of finance will be detrimental to our collective critical capacity. More importantly, seeing an end to finance as an activity narrowly associated with Wall Street and other financial centers will also help refocus our ethnographic and analytical attention to other ways various logics and techniques of finance are extended to unexpected places, including government-initiated schemes for industrial restructuring and other seemingly progressive economic reform. Both areas of ethnographic engagement will help us continue to avoid being seduced by the abstracting power of finance without losing sight of the concrete ways it captures our personal, practical and critical imaginations.

The anthropology of finance has long sought to defeat the popular tendency, inside and outside the academy, to exoticize the world of finance. Finance operationalizes a lateral and associational kind of logic that is not specific to finance but is almost analogical to the way anthropological reason operates. More importantly, the world of finance is made and remade by thinking subjects just like us who dream, are disappointed and try to gather together the courage to go on once again. In other words, the most important goal of the anthropology of finance, especially at this particular historical juncture, is to dissolve itself simply into an endeavor to understand and navigate the contemporary world as finance itself is currently doing.