Financialization and Marx — Pt 3. Class and Financialization

This is the concluding part of my reply to a question from a friend who wanted to know my opinion of a paper by Dick Bryan, Randy Martin and Mike Rafferty entitled “Financialization and Marx, Giving Labor and Capital a Financial Makeover,” published in the 2009 Review of Radical Political Economics.

“Households,” Bryan, Martin and Rafferty write, “live the contradiction of being both capitalist and non-capitalist at the same time. Economically, the household not only consumes commodities and reproduces labor power, it also engages finance, particularly through its exposure to credit, the demands of financial calculation, and requirements of self-funding non-wage work in old age.”

Bryan, Martin and Rafferty point to the enormous growth of consumer credit. An increasing number of people in the imperialist countries are being exploited not only as wage and salaried workers but as debtors. This is part of the phenomena called “financialization” that Bryan, Martin and Rafferty are trying to come to grips with. How does “financialization” affect class and relations among the classes?

However, Bryan, Martin and Rafferty appear to be confused, perhaps by their exposure to marginalist notions, about who is and who is not a capitalist. Without a clear understanding of what we mean by “capitalist” we cannot even begin properly to analyze class and class relationships.

To begin with, I don’t like how they use the term “households.” Bourgeois economists such as Keynes, for example, like to use the term “households” to hide class. There is a world of difference between a capitalist “household,” which lives off the profit obtained through its ownership of capital, and a working-class “household,” which lives off the income obtained from selling the labor power of one or more members of the “household” for wages.

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