Heterodox critiques of contemporary capitalism tend to depict speculation as the irrational investment in insubstantial signs. This essay suggests that the secularized subject speculates not in defiance of fundamental values but precisely because it has none to fall back on. It develops the point through an analysis that foregrounds the pragmatically constitutive logic of speculative fictions and expectations and the plastic logic of value. The argument that speculative practices compose a particular kind of economic order is developed through a historically contextualized discussion of capitalist risk rationality and the role of banks in manipulating this logic. Here the essay draws on Hyman Minsky’s work, which contains a problematic of knowledge, time, and uncertainty that is more interesting than typically recognized by post-Keynesian scholars and provides insight into the process of endogenous financial hierarchization. The emergence of capitalist financial governance is conceptualized as a process whereby the state takes on bank-like properties and the capitalist state’s future-oriented institutional forms come to serve as constitutive aspects of economic value. The stability of mid-twentieth-century capitalism can be understood as the institutionalization of the logic of capitalist speculation through its articulation to a specific pattern of disciplinary austerity, and the turn to neoliberalism can be viewed as a response to the distinctive tensions generated by this configuration. Friedrich Hayek viewed the problematic of economy in terms quite similar to Minsky’s and, like him, did not discern any possibilities for clean external interventions into its evolutionary logic. But from a Hayekian perspective an intensified awareness of this very fact was itself the solution: to austerely observe the limits of knowledge, and so to permit the contingent logic of speculative claims to spontaneously generate order, became itself the political change that was needed. On this reading, the neoliberal project represents neither a retreat of public authority nor a resurgence of sovereign decisionism, but an attempt to recalibrate the axis of speculation and austerity on which capitalist order is built.

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