Buying the Future


Mike Konczal in The New Inquiry:

Finance can go beyond bringing the future of raw commodities into cash value in the present. A wave of mathematical modeling and computer simulations allows investors to predict the likely value of everything from apartment rentals to sovereign crises to human beings, and a elaborate contractual infrastructure lets them lock down their bets. These fruits of financial engineering will increasingly play a role in our economic lives.

But are these fruits poison? Where will this sort of predictive financial engineering lead, and can anything be done to alter the path? This system of buying and selling the future requires a level of control over far beyond the normal standardization and commodification that comes with capitalist societies. To specify the future in the ways that futures contracts demand means locking down its forms in advance, with an abstract conception suitable to financial exchange positing what will become lived reality. Knowledge of the future breaks down, while financial markets overwhelms areas of everyday life once fully separate from what has been traditionally seen as finance. The consequences of this domination by finance have already begun to unfold and may only intensify as finance’s realms expand.

It might be useful to start with an old philosophical debate: about the relationship between universals and specific objects. As Marco d’Eramo notes in his book The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago: A History of Our Future, that back during the medieval period, philosophers fought over whether the names of things resulted from social conventions and the everyday reality of their existence, or whether the names of things existed in a reality independent of the actual objects that represent them in everyday lives. Are there only particular, individual, material things out there, with generic names arising only from social conventions? Or are there ideal Platonic universal entities, which exist separately from individual iterations of them?

More here.