The Ascendancy Of Finance by Joseph Vogl

The Blurb On The Back:

The global financial crisis of 2008 ushered in a system of informal decision-making in the grey zone between economics and politics.  Legitimised by a rhetoric of emergency, ad hoc bodies have usurped democratically elected governments.  In line with the neoliberal credo, the recent crisis has been used to re-align executive power with the interests of the finance industry.

In this important book, Joseph Vogl offers a longer perspective on these developments, showing how the dynamics of modern finance capitalism have always rested on a complex and constantly evolving relationship between private creditors and the state.  He argues that over the last three centuries, finance has become a ‘fourth power’, marked by the systematic interconnection of treasury and finance, of political and private economic interests.

The Ascendency Of Finance provides valuable and unsettling insight into the genesis of modern power and where it truly resides.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Joseph Vogl is Professor of Literature and Cultural Theory at the Humboldt University of Berlin and in this densely academic read that I found incredibly difficult to follow at times (translated from German by Simon Garnett), he argues that the way in which western political economic systems have developed means that finance has evolved into its own independent sphere that mediates between public and private interests.

Vogl clearly knows his subject and he paints a picture of the last 300 years of development of political economy in countries including the Netherlands, Genoa, Britain and USA taking in writers and theorists including Hobbes, Rousseau and Thomas Paine.  However, he expects his readers to have enough knowledge to keep up with him and to be honest, I did not, which is why I found it quite difficult to keep track as he jumped from theory and country to theory and country.  I also found some of the political economic theory difficult to understand and that wasn’t helped by the fact that Vogl writes in a very academic style, which was too dense for me at times and I had to read some sections several times in order to get the gist of what he was saying.

This is a shame because Vogl does make some interesting points about the development of national debt and how political economy has developed to maintain and encourage it and I also enjoyed his examination of the development of the Federal Reserve and how that permits finance to be a self-regulating realm and his examination of the rise of the Netherlands as a mercantile power in the 17th century is also fascinating.

Ultimately, this really isn’t a read aimed at layman readers and I think you really need to know a lot about the subject in order to get the most from it but if you stick with it, Vogl makes some interesting points and on that basis it’s worth checking out.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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