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William K. Tabb on the Criminality of Wall Street

By William K. Tabb
The current stage of capitalism is characterized by the increased power of finance capital. How to understand the economics of this shift and its political implications is now central for both the left and the larger society. There can be little doubt that a signature development of our time is the growth of finance and monopoly power. In 1980 the nominal value of global financial assets almost equaled global GDP. In 2005 they were more than three times global GDP. The nominal value of foreign exchange trading increased from eleven times the value of global trade in 1980 to seventy-three times in 2009. Of course it is not certain what this increase means, since such nominal values can fluctuate widely, as we saw in the Great Financial Crisis. They cannot be compared directly and without all sorts of qualifications to the value added in the real economy. But they do give an impressionistic sense of the enormous magnitude by which finance grew and came to dominate the economy. Between 1980 and 2007, derivative contracts of all kinds expanded from $1 trillion globally to $600 trillion. Hedge funds and private equity groups, special investment vehicles, and mega-bank holding companies changed the face of Western capitalism. They also brought on the collapse from which we still suffer. Ordinary people may not be acquainted with the numbers (and even those best informed are not sure of their significance), but people generally understand in different and often deep ways what has been happening: namely, an ongoing process of financialization that has come to dwarf production.
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