Spectres of Value

by Caleb Roberts

Speculation, the withdrawal of profits from the home industries, the increasingly feverish search, not so much for new markets (these are also saturated) as for the new kind of profits available in financial transactions themselves and as such — these are the ways in which capitalism now reacts to and compensates for the closing of its productive moment.  Capital itself becomes free-floating.  It separates from the ‘concrete context’ of its productive geography.  Money becomes in a second sense and to a second degree abstract (it always was abstract in the first and basic sense): as though somehow in the national moment money still had a content — it was cotton money, or wheat money, textile money, railway money and the like.  Now, like the butterfly stirring within the chrysalis, it separates itself off from that concrete breeding ground and prepares to take flight.  We know today only too well (but Arrighi shows us that this contemporary knowledge of ours only replicates the bitter experiences of the dead, of disemployed workers in the older moments of capitalism, of local merchants as well, of the dying cities also) that the term is literal.  We know that there exists such a thing as capital flight: the disinvestment, the pondered or hasty moving on to greener pastures and higher rates of investment return, and of cheaper labour.  Now this free-floating capital, on its frantic search for more profitable investments (a process prophetically described for the US as long ago as Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital of 1965) will begin to live its life in a new context; no longer in the factories and the spaces of extraction and production, but on the floor of the stock market, jostling for more intense profitability, but not as one industry competing with another branch, nor even one productive technology against another more advanced one in the same line of manufacturing, but rather in the form of speculation itself: spectres of value, as Derrida might put it, vying against each other in a vast world-wide disembodied phantasmagoria. (141-142)

Fredric Jameson | “Culture and Finance Capital” in The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.