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Contribution to Collected Edition

The Assault of Financial Futures on the Rest of Time


Walter,  Timo
Projekte von Gastwissenschaftlern und Postdoc-Stipendiaten, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;
University of Edinburg, UK;


Wansleben,  Leon
Soziologie öffentlicher Finanzen und Schulden, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Walter, T., & Wansleben, L. (2020). The Assault of Financial Futures on the Rest of Time. In I. Scoones, & A. Stirling (Eds.), The Politics of Uncertainty: Challenges of Transformation (pp. 31-44). London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781003023845-2.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-BAD1-C
The question we ask in this chapter is how financialised capitalism shapes and formats the politics of the future. Our central tenet is that, far from providing an engine for imagining futures that guides collective actions, finance makes use of forecasts, plans or visions of the future to fuel coordination processes and interactions in the present. While the oscillation between ‘present futures’ and ‘future presents’ has been identified as a defining feature of modern conceptions of contingency, freedom and choice, contemporary financial markets appropriate possible future states for a different purpose: projected futures are calculatedly reduced to arbitrage opportunities, rather than for shaping durable ‘imagined futures’. We show that this ‘assault on future presents’ was an important factor in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007–2009. Central banks deliberately attempted to eliminate uncertainties in markets, with shared fictions about the underlying logics of Western economies (real interest rates, inflation levels, etc.) rigidly built into the structures of asset prices. Market actors could then arbitrage among present prices without any concern to possible substantive discontinuities with, and thus uncertainty of, the future. Fatally, central banks have been at the forefront of such ‘synchronistic’ finance, believing that, as long as numeric calibration of their own and the markets’ expectations align, they have rendered capitalism governable.