Randy Martin (2002). Financialization of Daily Life

Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-988-2.

Market places:oikos, utopus, and globalization

Gib Prettyman

Randy Martin’s Financialization of Daily Life is deeply immersed in its historical place and time, and as such it confronts the reader with a provocative combination of recognition and disorientation. Largely this is a result of what Martin himself calls ‘the rather ungainly phenomenon under consideration here’ (Martin, 2002a: 190) – ungainly not only because financialization is so expansive, but precisely because it converts all places (such as the home) and all times (particularly the future) into the pervasive, recursive, disembodied movements of financial markets.1 However, Martin also employs recognition and disorientation as methodological motive forces. In fact, scholars should read the book as an empirical companion piece to his theoretical explorations in On Your Marx: Rethinking Socialism and the Left (2002), in which Martin explicitly proposes a reading of Marx between ‘unabashed orthodoxy and postmarxist apostasy’ that ‘augurs a methodological shift from historical prescription to revaluation of how political movement is located in our midst’ (Martin, 2002b: xv, 188). Financialization of Daily Life turns on evaluation and revaluation of movement and location, and so to some extent the subject becomes the method and the method becomes the subject.

The neologism ‘financialization’ has not yet been as widely used as the more evocative ‘globalization,’ but in scope and import they denominate substantially coextensive economic developments. Whereas the term globalization might suggest exotic geographical elsewheres to complacent Western consumers financialization – as Martin’s title suggests – more clearly and dramatically pervades the (in this case American) home. Martin quotes Michael J. Mandel’s basic explanation of financialization from The High-Risk Society: Peril and Promise in the New Economy (1996):

Historically, activities on the financial markets – the buying and selling of stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments – have been regarded as far different from the day-to-day endeavors in the real world. . . This distinction is quickly disappearing, as the high-risk society becomes as fluid and as competitive as the financial markets. . . The combination of high uncertainty and unrestricted competition is reducing the difference between the real economy of factories and offices on the one hand, and the financial markets on the other. The rules governing Wall Street now apply to the entire economy.

The implication: In the high-risk society, workers, businesses, and countries must start thinking like investors in the financial markets, where the only way to consistently achieve success is to accept risk. (qtd. in Martin, 2002a: 34)

Whether this development is figured as neutral, malevolent, benevolent, or utopian, financialization represents a colonizing of the daily life of middle class Americans in ways analogous to how globalization is colonizing South American coffee growers or African cocoa farmers – by turning apparently tangible labors, products and possessions into ‘fluid and competitive’ phenomena of global financial marketplaces. Intellectually, ‘the furious proliferation of money talk in the media permeates the home to a degree difficult to imagine only a few years ago’ (37). Financialization entails a relentless exhortation to ‘financial self-management’ that ‘leaves no corner of the home untouched,’ so that ‘[c]radle to grave, dawn to dusk, the oikos of economics returns to its original residence where home organizes both labor and its reproduction’ (194). Materially, familiar economic strategies and practices ‘become flustered under the financial gaze’ and ‘the possessive relations between persons and things are dissolved and reassembled’ (11). Among other things, financialization demands that house mortgages be treated as financial instruments for a restless present rather than as a source of savings toward an anticipated future. Taken together, these processes are transforming the home so that ‘[w]hat was once a source of security is now a source of risk’ (31). Martin recognizes opportunities for radical thought and intervention in the phenomenon of financialization – not just, or even primarily, for prescriptive criticisms of capitalist methods, but for making explicit use of an implicitly socializing disruption that ‘brings people together only to seem to take away what they thought they possessed’ (16).

Martin focuses in Financialization of Daily Life on presenting a provocative exploration of the phenomenon rather than on exhaustively developing implications or formulating conclusions. At heart, the book is a survey of ‘new economy’ apologies, sociological jeremiads, financial self-help guidebooks, and other in medias res formulations of financialization written during the stock market boom of the late 90s. As suggested above, Martin uses ‘financialization’ to refer not only to objective economic changes grouped under rubrics like ‘new economy’ and ‘marketization,’ but also to the more experiential transformations of how (and how much) people think about economics in their own lives. Martin is interested in how people ‘without significant capital’ (12) such as middle class homeowners and mutual fund investors are forced to understand market processes, or at least to function as though they did. Along the way he offers commentaries about what financialization means and how new economic policies evolved – but his primary method is to take the literature of financialization at its own word(s) and to mark the intellectual fissures and political movements opened by ‘the new logics by which strange customs are made to feel normal’ (8).

Martin’s first chapter, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing?’, proposes that ‘[t]he economic boom of the 1990s presents an opportunity to understand what increasing wealth failed to deliver’ (14). He traces the rise of the ‘new economy’ in the United States and its implied promise ‘that the good times would continue forever because the economy was immune to recession or, more modestly, that high productivity could accompany low inflation and unemployment’ (30). Given the prolonged and conspicuous boom, the fact that most people did not report feeling happy raised questions about what constitutes growth, wealth, and prosperity, and how (or if) ‘the economic prosperity indexed by the numbers’ (15) translates into ‘a sense of well-being’ that ‘is formed in the moment’ (14). To examine projections and perceptions of financialization, he reads several broadly drawn celebrations and critiques of the new economy, with an eye toward their representations of how financialization is (or should be) experienced. Even laudatory accounts of financialization such as Davis and Meyer’s Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy (1999), for instance, emphasize ‘blur’ and disorientation, while many negative accounts function as jeremiads and proclaim the downfall of middle class values.

The second chapter picks up financialization as a process of active training through personal finance guidebooks, magazine articles, university extension courses, and on-line games and contests. These guides are all aimed squarely at the (American) middle class household and often tailor their message precisely for parents of young children or for teenagers. They also rely on the self-help genre for themes (such as fitness and spirituality) and methods (such as 12-step programs). Again, Martin is interested in the critical movement represented by this discourse, which is not radical in intention or method, but has the effect of examining and amplifying negative effects such as financial pathologies and sociological malaise, as well as explicitly elaborating proffered solutions such as spiritual beliefs and ‘healthy’ financial thinking. Paradoxically, for example, ‘reenchantment of a world profaned through attention to monetary reason is a persistent theme’ of financialization guidebooks. As he points out, ‘[i]f capitalism were hermetically self-rationalizing, the accumulation of wealth would be a self-justifying endeavor.’ However, the authors of these financial self-help and how-to books ‘ply their trade on the presumption that money is a problem that cannot fix itself’ and that wealth ‘is the sticky problem bequeathed by a society that cannot offer the solution’ (91). Martin’s sense of critical opening is implied in his conclusion that financialization training ‘is ubiquitous, but never automatic,’ and ‘always requires action that leads toward self-recognition’ (101).

New economy marketization also confronts its middleclass trainees with overtly and unmistakably postmodern processes. As Mandel’s introduction to financialization explains, factories and offices seem self-evidently to represent ‘the real economy’ because they produce ‘real things such as cars and shirts,’ while financial markets have always seemed fundamentally unreal because they ‘merely traded pieces of paper’ (qtd. in Martin 2002a: 34). Not only does the Internet vastly increase the possibility (and the speed) of manipulating markets by replacing brick-and-mortar corporations with dot.com enterprises and by doing away with even the paper of stock trading, but the anti-inflation focus of new economy practice makes it imperative that government’s primary economic function be to manipulate markets by such insubstantial means as ‘semiotic releases’ (26) by the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. But while governmental involvement in ‘free’ markets is downplayed or denied, everyone is forced to see that, ‘[w]hen decomposed into its constituent elements, the stock market is only volatility, an endless stream of numbers moving up or down’ (123). Financialization teaches people to live in an explicitly probabilistic world in which ‘reality’ is constantly recognized to be a moving target.

The final two chapters of Martin’s book take a more encompassing look at some of the ways in which financialization refigures the world. Chapter Three, ‘Risking the World,’ focuses on the complex thematic of risk in the new economy. Economically speaking, risk is ‘the measurable probability of an occurrence, whereas uncertainty is immeasurable’ (105). As financial markets require everything to be quantifiable, risk is ‘a rhetoric of the future that is really about the present . . . [and] a means of price setting on the promise that a future is attainable’ (105). Here again, financialization denies the possibility of a safe haven, because ‘[r]isk presents not only the limit to what can be known in the present, but also the burden of acting as if one could know’ (106). At the same time there is a potential critical recognition, because ‘the consequence of risk acceptance is that the actions of others take hold of your fate,’ and therefore to ‘be undisturbed by risk is to accept this sociality to a greater degree’ (121).

Similarly, Chapter Four, ‘The New Divisions: A Geography Reconsidered,’ explores how financialization affects conceptualizations of the political landscape. Martin has in mind the internal geography of nation-states (the classes), the external geography of nations and political divisions and globalization, and the ways in which financialization and marketization are transforming people’s sense of these ‘places’. As a conceptualization, any given geography serves a hegemonic function as ‘a way of parceling meaning to units so that those units or parts can be neatly summed to a whole that makes each element seem to belong only where it happens to be’ (151). In that sense, the ‘reported crisis of the middle is one of the geography that gave pride of place to the center’ (151). Questioning geographies, of course, is simultaneously epistemological and critical, and Martin is concerned to explore both aspects. Internationally, on the macro level, it is clear that ‘[w]ith finance in the global driver’s seat, transnational flows of debt and credit do the steering [of postcolonial nations] from afar, but do so by seemingly remote applications of force’ (152). Just as the new economy depends on leveraged credit and debt, the new international geography of globalization depends on ‘leveraged hegemony’ (159). In terms of the classes, however, the effects of financialization are more ambiguous. Martin examines ‘financialization of the poor’ (170) through such means as ‘microcredit’ of village banks (e.g., the Grameen in Bangladesh) and financial services based on bad credit rating of poor people (e.g. urban check-cashing businesses in the US). Such ‘risk management for the poor . . . circulates globally with unexpected combinations and political demands all part of the return,’ because ‘[b]y lumping the poor together across nations and regions, the World Bank . . . help[s] to define a new geographic continuity, a shared space of risk, that as much organizes certain demands into a chain of command that leads to their door as it applies self-management to cordon off the spread of needs for development’ (169).

As I have noted, the major recurring implication of Martin’s survey is that the financialization of daily life instigates movement within which radical political analysis can speak to (and through) contemporary middle class exigency. Martin argues explicitly in On Your Marx that the function of the middle class is analogous to that of markets, because ‘markets provide the medium of circulation for capital, [and] the middle class does the same for individuals. In both cases, circulation is constitutive; it is the means through which the value of what was in motion is realized’ (167). Of course, historically the implications of this analogy have not been conceived as problematic by the middle class itself, whose possessions – and particularly homes – were taken to indicate final concrete evidence of both individual identity and mastery over the motion of the marketplace. As the apotheosis of the market, however, financialization quite literally turns concretely possessed homes and the laboring selves who ‘own’ them into financial instruments marked by their qualities of circulation, ‘blur,’ risk, and so on. These qualities of the financialized self, whether understood as opportunity or as threat, bring the logic of the marketplace home with potentially dramatic force, so that ‘[w]hat was once a stable place from which each person was to build one’s own castle in the air, safe from the scrutiny that might declare one’s dream foolish, has now been set in motion, placed at risk’ (151). ‘The paradox to be pursued here,’ Martin suggests, ‘is that the realization of this mode of reason is also its undoing’ insofar as confrontation with the endless disembodied and relative quantification of financial markets calls into question ‘the belief in the reasonableness of reason’ (2002b: 166). Moreover, given ‘the further financialization of domestic life, these calculating attitudes only have occasion to multiply,’ and thus the ‘question for the status of the middle class as a hegemonic formation is whether the calculating activity can still do the political work that has been its historic burden – to allow people to believe that their future financial success and personal security lie with the expanded circulation of capital’ (2002b: 167). If not, Martin suggests, those ‘labors brought into the home, marshaled in the service of self-management, can also be applied to different ends’ by using ‘a different calculus, one whose reason can remain focused on debts to mutuality rather than mutual debt’ (2002b: 183).

Along the same lines, the idea of joint stock and stockholding has historically included the latent socializing potential of the metaphor of incorporation,2 and the new economy’s emphasis on marketization extends those implications to an extent that capital ‘puts its privacy at risk’ (136). As Martin points out, ‘[a]t the dawn of the modern joint-stock corporation’ Marx himself ‘spoke of the “abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself”‘ (136). Martin examines some political visions inspired by financialization, such as Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott’s The Stakeholder Society (1999), that make this metaphor central. But even when it does not inspire explicitly political proposals for social reorganization, financialization in general propagates ‘the common belief that holding stock . . . is socially binding,’ and although ‘[i]ndividualism is the manifest form of this sociality,’ in actuality ‘stock ownership is a decision over the disposition of wealth that is yielded to others’ (118-19). Clearly ‘the social basis of individual success’ in financial markets is constantly ‘disavowed as a condition of individual identity formation,’ but in actuality only ‘[p]ooled wealth and common ownership’ make success possible (119). In this regard, ‘[c]apital’s expansion abets not only itself, but also the interconnections of ownership,’ so that as ‘more and more forms of property become socialized . . . ownership will be spread everywhere by means of common shares that associate people who can make a claim on capital’ (137). Martin offers these observations not as teleological givens, but as lines of critical analysis and committed action. In fact, at present he believes that ‘[t]here remains a yawning gap between the socialized ownership of property that securitization has offered up, and either the dreamscape or the political mobilization appropriate to such expanding interconnections’ (195).

A closely related point raised by Financialization of Daily Life is the foreshortening of utopian space and time. Middle class utopian projections have always combined well with elements of capitalist development, and in some ways financialization is no exception; several of the texts Martin explores present new economics and/or Internet technologies with a more or less utopian gloss. But just as financial markets displace the old geography of imperialism by colonizing the home, so too they dislocate the familiar temporal orientation of the protestant ethic by which money and possessions are accumulated for a better (and ontologically discrete) future, and by which capitalism in general promises future benefits such as growth and increased satisfaction. Indeed, through quantification of risk and securitization of debt, financialization seems to exclude any other future because the quantified futures (as probable extensions of the past) necessarily circulate everywhere as exploited market value in the present. In market activities such as futures trading, for example, “not only does the value of money facilitate the circulation of commodities, but the future of each enters into the present instantaneously and relentlessly” (Boden, 2000: 195; qtd. in Martin, 2002a: 105). As Martin observes, when ‘future and present interpenetrate, we are no longer talking about events that have yet to take place or life that awaits living, and it is difficult to know what separates the two moments’ (105). Many of the authors whom Martin examines report this sense of ‘a future lost to diminished faith in progress’ (39) and lament the downfall of previous middle class moral touchstones like savings and delayed gratification. Martin concludes that ‘the middle has lost its utopian promise’ (170).

Again, Martin considers this foreshortening of utopia to be politically multivalent. Experientially, as for example with Internet stock traders, ‘[b]leary-eyed intimacy is often the most practical consequence of collapsing time and space,’ and this hopeless state could engender a sort of Faustian recognition and a desire for ‘reenchantment’ (91). This obscene intimacy is similar to what Baudrillard identified as ‘the crisis of an achieved utopia, confronted with the problem of its duration and permanence’ (1988: 77). In addition to experiential disconnections, the frequency and ease with which the future is marketed and managed can lead to explicit recognitions of financialization’s relative lack of social vision. Such lack of future vision would pose problems for hegemony and cause very specific sorts of political questions to be asked (as is evident in the political mobilizations surrounding globalization). As Martin puts it, ‘[b]y forcing the future into the present, financialization imposes a gargantuan scale onto a framework of management. If poverty can be erased by making everyone an entrepreneur, why can’t entrepreneurialism be outed for the cooperation on which it rests, and why can’t that cooperation be what is extended by wealth, rather than the other way around?’ (180). Without a commensurate vision of socialization, the extensive methods and means of financialization stand out as an opportunity as well as a problem.

Paradoxically, then, as financialization forces the future to be marketed in the present, the foreshortening of utopian time actually circulates and generates utopian value. For example,

If both labor and capital are socialized to the point where we are forced to confront them as funds for more profound mutual engagement, then we can draw upon the intricacy of interaction that greatly opens up who and what we can be for one another. The values attributed to capital, to technologies, to wealth, could then rightfully be posed as questions for the future that we want in the present. This reversal of fortune would draw upon finance’s means without embracing its ends, engendering a state of immeasurable risk, a departure from expectations whose rewards bear no price. (190)

There is thus both overlap and distinction between the utopian promise of the middle (as a generally self-serving and uncritical version of utopianism) and a vision of life that is more genuinely radical. Financialization is basically economic postmodernism, and insofar as this represents capitalism cannibalizing itself, it also presents complications (and opportunities) for a Marxist critique ‘between orthodoxy and apostasy’. Despite Marx’s ambivalence toward so-called ‘utopian socialists’ such as Fourier and Owen,3 the possibility that capitalism might be made to produce the seeds of its own transcendence has been a persistent aspect of socialist thought and practice. Martin considers the theoretical details of this ‘socialism intrinsic to capitalism’ (2002b: 186) at length in On Your Marx, where he reads in Marx’s work ‘a measured corrective to the theoretical dilemma of crisis in the form of an analytical approach that keeps things in motion’ (2002b: xxi). Martin therefore insists on movement as methodology. And because ‘financialization is decidedly not a utopian project,’ examining it ‘makes plain how the market delivers its wants and amasses wealth with the very open question of what it is for’ (177). In other words, Martin is careful to leave the reader with questions and in motion, but with utopia theoretically perceptible within the market place of here and now.


1 All subsequent parenthetical references are to Financialization of Daily Life unless otherwise indicated. I will distinguish material from Martin’s On Your Marx, also published in 2002, by citing it as ‘Martin 2002b’.

2 For example, incorporation inspired American utopian literature at the turn of the twentieth century; see Prettyman (2001), ‘Gilded Age Utopias of Incorporation’.

3 A careful examination of Marx’s attitudes toward the utopian socialists can be found in Paden (2003), ‘Marx’s Critique of the Utopian Socialists’.


Ackerman, B. & Alstott, A. (1999) The Stakeholder Society. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Baudrillard, J. (1988) America. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Verso.

Boden, D. (2000) ‘Worlds in Action: Information, Instantaneity, and Global Futures Trading’, in Adam, B. et al. (eds), The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory. London: Sage.

Davis, S. & Meyer, C. (1999) Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy. New York: Warner Books.

Mandel, M. (1996) The High Risk Society: Peril and Promise in the New Economy. New York: Random House.

Martin, R. (2002a) Financialization of Daily Life. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Martin, R. (2002b) On Your Marx: Rethinking Socialism and the Left. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Paden, R. (2002) ‘Marx’s Critique of the Utopian Socialists’, Utopian Studies 13.2: 67-91.

Prettyman, G. (2001) ‘Gilded Age Utopias of Incorporation’, Utopian Studies 12.1: 19-40.

Gib Prettyman is Associate Professor of English at the Fayette campus of Pennsylvania State University, US. He has published essays on utopianism, industrialism, and American literary culture in such journals as American Literary RealismInterdisciplinary Literary Studies, and Prospects. He is currently at work on a book examining US commercial utopianism in the Gilded Age.