The financial crisis in 2008 made visible an unprecedented change in the economy – from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism and from post-war state-controlled modernization to a neoliberal economy. We have since received numerous analyzes of this change and the reasons behind it – both Keynesians who have focused on the unregulated private markets and those who have analyzed the fall in profit rates after 30 years of overproduction in the advanced economies.
Belgian philosopher Michel Feher's latest book Le temps des investis – "The time invested" – is a contribution to the discussion of this historical course. But the book is also an attempt to formulate a political counterpart and to design new strategies by which a left-wing policy can reject the hegemony of financial capital.
Part of Feher's book is a historical review of the economic transformation that has been going on since the mid-1970s. The author describes it as "a skewed realization of neoliberalism" – skewed because the economy created by Reagan and Thatcher, among others, differed from the neoliberal theory that Friedman and Hayek developed after World War II. They envisioned a community of contractors, all running their own small business. The early neoliberalists criticized the state-controlled economy, which they feared would lead to socialism.
The neoliberalism of today is often criticized precisely for having created a society where we are all marketed small businesses in competition with each other. But, Feher writes, that's not actually what happened. Such an analysis does not take into account the emergence of investors. The new accumulation regime is not a neoliberal entrepreneurial economy the way the neoliberal ideologues of the 1940s wanted but one investment capitalism.
When the Left criticizes man's neoliberalism, it overlooks what the introduction of credit has meant to the economy of recent decades. We are not become small entrepreneurs trying to make a profit – we are what Feher calls "invested" trying to be creditworthy. This is the condition whether one is an individual, a company or a state. We are all subject to the whims of finance capital – we are all projects that try to make us for investors. Today, it is they who control the economy, neither the employers nor the state.
The nation states have even had to lower the corporate tax rate to attract multinational companies. They have thus eroded their own tax base and thus have been forced to take out debt in order to maintain a certain level of welfare.
We are not small entrepreneurs trying to make a profit – we are "invested" trying to be credit worthy.
The political-economic struggle has thus changed terrain. The most important thing is to pay off its loans in order to borrow new ones from the almighty finance people. That does not mean, Feher points out, that wage workers are not still being paid – they are. But it is necessary to extend Marxism's economics criticism beyond the focus on labor, capital and added value. In postwar industrial capitalism, the point was to buy goods (and labor) as cheaply as possible, and then sell them most expensive. This has now been replaced by a financial capitalism where profits are not made through sales, but where investors try to find credit and the investors try to find investors.
It is an updated Foucault analysis Feher offers. He draws on the Frenchman's neoliberal analyzes, and also uses Foucault's notion of power and resistance: Financial capital is a new form of government that produces new subjectivities – the invested ones – that are subject to the changing assessments of credit rates. Investors thus have a different power than the employer. The latter acquired the added value the worker produced – the investor decides what to produce at all.
Feher describes the emergence of new forms of resistance. These use the financial capital against the financial capital by, for example, forcing companies to abandon harmful projects for fear of investors withdrawing their money. "Militant speculation" Feher calls it. Another approach is to collectivize the new digital platform companies. When contract workers demand regular employment, companies go bankrupt – and workers can take over themselves. Feher understands this as a further development of the 1970s experiments in self-management.
Feher's analysis i Le temps des investis has no revolutionary perspective: Since financial capitalism seems unachievable, the question becomes how to avoid its worst sides. The author's best suggestion for a new left-wing policy is bizarre enough to return to the labor movement and its unions. These not only pointed out the inequality of wages, but also fought in concrete terms for more in wages. As we all know, the focus was quickly only on the last, and only on the local workers. But the left must do the same today, Feher suggests – so use the financial capital against it himself.
This may prevent the worst excesses of financial capitalism, but in a historical situation characterized by fierce counter-revolutionary dynamics, the exclusion of ever-increasing numbers from global labor and a loosening climate crisis, there is probably more to be done than Feher's "militant speculation".