Beginning from Weber’s claim that pursuit of capitalist profit developed out of the uncertainty of Calvinists about their salvational status, this article argues that the horizon of salvation remains essential to the apparatus of finance today. Often characterized as the zenith of rationality, capitalism—motored by speculation and dependent on fantasy—should instead be thought of as the dream-work of industrial modernism. Indeed, this article contends, capitalism in its current form—in which ordinary citizens are connected to capital primarily as bearers of risk—depends on the collective reimagining of debt as a salvational technology, a feat accomplished by a complex network of media and financial elites. In this soteriology of Capital, debt is about the ever receding tomorrow and depends on on the eternal life of Capital and the promise that the day of reckoning can be indefinitely postponed.
Life after Debt
arjun appadurai is the Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. His books include Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance (University of Chicago Press, 2015), The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (Verso, 2013), Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Duke University Press, 2006), and, with Neta Alexander, Failure (Polity Press, 2019). He is the coeditor of the journal Public Culture.
Arjun Appadurai; Life after Debt. differences 1 December 2020; 31 (3): 21–28. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-8744455
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