Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In this presentation, I make the argument that over the past three decades, what fueled the exponential increase of wealth inequality in the US was the growing ability of particular powerful actors to capture, feast on, and unlock the accumulated productive assets embedded in such sites as corporations and houses. (These assets were downsized and redistributed towards the top, thereby reducing the number of people who could lay claim to them). As such, despite global proclamations of how powerful financiers are penultimate “risktakers,” it is perhaps more apt to characterize them as capturing the benefits of the risks that others have borne. In other words, in the past thirty years, capitalists have experienced a sense of “limitless” opportunity in the accumulation of capital, which they were able to access through a cocktail of US political decisions and policies that favored finance, and that helped them to establish a mindset of accumulative exuberance and an expectation of continual growth that rippled across the globe. In an important sense, then, how capital is accumulated and justified under financialization can be aptly explained by an exploration of the “frontier logics” of dominant players in finance: the construction of conditions though which finance could lay claim to enormous stockpiles of accumulated resources were co-constituted through an affective understanding of their rights and entitlement to those resources. This presentation explores the specific ways in which powerful financial actors and institutions crafted a kind of “liquid frontier” to help engender the widespread accumulation of assets.