The assault of finance’s ‘present futures’ on the rest of time
Timo Walter and
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Leon Wansleben: London School of Economics and Political Science
No 8dyq2, SocArXiv from Center for Open Science
The title of our contribution refers to Alexander Kluge’s movie, “Der Angriff der Gegenwart auf die übrige Zeit” (“the assault of the present on the rest of time”). The question we ask is how financialized capitalism shapes and formats the politics of the future. Our central tenet is that, far from providing an engine ’imagining’ futures that substantively guide (collective) actions, finance ‘consumes’ forecasts, plans, or visions in its present coordination process. While the “oscillation” between present futures and future presents has been identified as a defining feature of modern conceptions of contingency, freedom, and choice (Luhmann; Esposito), these two temporal modalities are collapsed in contemporary financial markets in an ongoing ‘pricing in’ of various possible future states. Projected futures do not substantively shape collective paths towards them or instruct social learning, but are calculatively assimilated to improve coordination between present prices. Fatally, central banks have been at the forefront of “synchronist” (Langenohl) finance, believing that as long as numeric calibration of their own and the markets’ expectations as expressed in prices align, they have rendered capitalism governable. Under this regime, central banks really do not govern inflation, but inflation expectations as expressed in the “yield curve” and built into interest rate derivatives. We argue that financial techniques built on the efficient market hypothesis and the Black-Scholes-Merton formula, as two theoretical articulations of this modern “synchronist” (Langenohl) temporality of finance, allow central banks to ignore possible “random” fluctuations in actual inflation and concentrate on the internal calibration of present futures as the sole criterion for monetary policy success. We show that the resultant “assault” on “future presents” was an important factor in the run-up to the crisis of 2007-9. Central banks deliberately attempted to eliminate uncertainties in markets about the future course of monetary policies. For that purpose, shared fictions about the underlying logics of Western economies (real interest rates, NAIRU etc.) were rigidly built into the structures of asset prices. Moreover, since central banks and market actors aligned their expectations over real interest rates, market actors could act as if their uncertainties about future liquidity needs could be neglected, since current money market and official lending rates were supposed to already define the price of liquidity tomorrow. In the last part of the contribution, we will extend this argument to contemporary quantitative easing, to show how it reinforces the pitfalls of generating expectations of economic prosperity and stability via the contemporary financial system.
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