Riefer on the new Aristocracy

Tom Riefer, my great colleague in sociology, who seems to have read everything, has a new article up, and the abstract is below. He discussed some of this last night at the reading group event on China and neoliberalism:

In this paper, Reifer looks at the global financial crisis in a long historical context, drawing on the perspective of Fernand Braudel. In it we see how the legal ammendment in New Jersey that created the corporation in the 19th century led to the circumvention of barriers by private owners of capital, allowing them to play states off against one another in a neverending race to compete for mobile capital.

The lawyers themselves, de Tocqueville saw as “bullwarks against democracy” for their role in enabling the removal of laws that would prevent consolidation of private corporate power and the formation of monopolies. We see how this led to the rise of Wall Street, and the cycles of financial crisis and instability that enabled further consolidation over the next century. The military budget and imperial conquests of the United States helped maintain surplus accumulation despite falling profits and overaccumulation, while neoliberal measures helped extend and deepend the reach of the market with globalization. The paper traces this long-term development, dicussing the role of corporate lawyers and investment bankers as key agents driving the consolidation of capitalism, and considers what lies next, the role of a “Beijing Consensus” and the implications this has for global inequality and possibility of alternative, more sustainable paths for the world economy.