Introduction By 2005, just a few years before the worst financial meltdown in decades began its unrelenting crescendo of destruction, the (notional) value of outstanding financial derivatives was 630 trillion US dollars. This was equivalent to 14 times the global gross domestic product (GDP)—that is, 14 times the combined product of all national economies in the world.1 With the cognitive maps that one regularly uses to go about the activities of everyday life, it is practically impossible to even begin to grasp the material life of that figure. Surely, one could picture how $1 million, or even $1 billion, might transform into things that can be touched, worn, and sensed. Beyond the threshold of $1 trillion, however, money begins to flee the worldly realm of human experience and becomes a mere artifact of mathematical abstraction. Reflecting on the nature of the infinite, Hegel posits a distinction between a genuine infinity and a “bad” or “spurious” infinity.2 The question of boundlessness lies at the heart of these philosophical categories, because for Hegel, the self-identical object exists only by virtue of its confinement within a qualitative limit. A circle, the orbit of a planet, and a Möbius strip would be examples of genuinely infinite objects that have no outside and are thus complete in themselves. The truth of these objects, for that reason, is not external to their being. Bad infinity [die schlechte Unendlichkeit], on the other hand, is linked to the notion of infinite progression. The straight line and the number series are regarded as canonical examples of the infinite, yet at any given moment they have a definite start and finish (any order of magnitude in the number series can be superseded by a larger number, and so on). For Hegel, bad infinity thus entails an unending process of linear progression and alteration that will never attain completion, precisely because such completion is logically impossible. When determined as a moment in the valorization of capital, the motion of money is, by its very essence, also without limit.3 Money draws its immense material powers not only from the fact that it is formally boundless, but also due to its status as the universal representative of social wealth. As the social incarnation of all human labor, this perplexing super-object mediates an uncanny system of social and ecological transformation where the living, the inorganic, and the monstrous become entangled in the most improbable configurations. Rampant deforestation as lands are transformed into financial assets; suicide epidemics afflicting peasants under the burden
of predatory lending; severe social anxiety resulting from mass evictions; and extermination of indigenous communities by death squads in order to make way for speculative investment are but a few of the imprints of money’s ferocious logic of infinite progression on planetary natures. The violent dislocations that emerge from the social powers of money in its character as store of value, however, are rarely problematized in the burgeoning literature on financialization. Most scholarly approaches have actually tended to place the focus almost exclusively on the function of money as a medium of circulation.4 Emphasis is therefore given to the sphere of exchange, a domain of social reality mystified by the pervasive illusions of liberty, equality, and abstract citizenship that underpin the modern state-form. Such accounts thus tend to start from the explicit or tacit assumption that financial practices and instruments have become severed from the turbulent domain of “the real economy.”5 Yet, only by situating money in the sphere of production can we grasp its social determination as the universal bearer of human labor in the abstract, and therefore discover the origins of its overwhelming class power. Put differently, an exclusive focus on the credit system obfuscates the fact that labor exploitation and the appropriation of extra-human natures continue to be the pivot of the modern money-form. In rendering visible the clash between the bad infinity of money and the embodied realities of human and ecological existence, I intend to show that the process of financialization cannot be considered as separate— or even emancipated in the slightest—from the violent geographies that support it. To formulate this point even more bluntly, the purpose of this article is to problematize the aesthetic and ideological disconnection that exists between the dazzling skylines of the financial centers of global cities, and the worlds of social suffering, genocidal war, and ecological destruction upon which they hinge. Even though the fetish of money gives the appearance that finance has become emancipated from production, neither of these polar opposites can exist without the other. In the first section I engage Marx's theory of money, and especially his appropriation of Hegel's notion of bad infinity, to make sense of the more-than-human powers of money in modern, liberal society. Then I historicize the specific context of global monetary space and its relation to the modalities of territorial change and industrial expansion that have come to define 21st-century capitalism. This involves the exploration of two key developments: the first is the emergence
1 Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Complexity and Brutality in the Global Economy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
3 See Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital; McNally, “Beyond the False Infinity of Capital.”
2 The concept of infinity was introduced and developed by Hegel in The Philosophy of Right, Science of Logic, and the Phenomenology of Spirit. For more on the Marxian appropriation of this Hegelian notion, see David McNally, “Beyond the False Infinity of Capital: Dialectics and Self-Mediation in Marx’s Theory of Freedom,” in New Dialectics and Political Economy, ed. Robert Albritton and John Simoulidis (New York: Palgrave, 2003); Christopher J. Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002); Wayne Martin, “In Defense of Bad Infinity: A Fichtean Response to Hegel’s Differenzschrift,” Hegel Bulletin 28, no. 1/2 (2007): 168–87.
4 Standard approaches in political economy ascribe a threefold social functionality to money: as a medium of exchange, money facilitates economic transactions and the trade of commodities; as a measure of value, money provides a standard of price that permits an assessment of the value of all other commodities; as a store of value, money is the general expression of wealth, and for this reason needs to bear an elementary connection to the values it represents. For a thorough explanation of the functions of money, see David Harvey, “Money, Credit, and Finance,” in The Limits to Capital (1982; repr., London and New York: Verso, 2006), Chapter 9.
5 For a critique of traditional notions of financialization, see Susanne Soederberg, Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry: Money, Discipline, and the Surplus Population (London and New York: Routledge, 2014). On the embodied nature of finance, especially concerning the relation between financialization and the commodification of both labor-power and social reproduction, see Adrienne Roberts, “Gender, Financial Deepening, and the Production of Embodied Finance: Towards a Critical Feminist Analysis,” Global Society 29, no. 1 (2015): 107–27.