Meta-Capital: Culture and Financial Derivatives
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The present worldwide financial crisis has underscored what has long been suspected or known, but what has not always been visible: that the interconnectivity and risk in a global economy have been driven by derivatives, what Warren Buffet once called “time bombs” and “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Financial derivatives, seemingly arcane or obscure instruments of global capital markets, have transformed the world in ways seldom understood or analyzed, least of all in cultural studies. Like the commodity in Marx’s analysis, the derivative is deceptively simple though ultimately mysterious. Not only are derivatives tools used in the complex networks of globalization, but they are actively driving late capitalism. Although cultural and literary criticism has grappled with social and economic forces of globalization, it has not really attempted to assess these elements of postmodern finance. The current crisis calls for new cognitive maps (to use Jameson’s conception) that can register the effects of this meta-capital. In this essay, I examine derivatives, their characteristics and effects, and I argue that the project of contemporary cultural criticism will have to take into account the complex new reality of a global economic system dominated by financial derivatives.