Introduction to financialization

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By LUIZ CARLOS BRESSER-PEREIRA*

Preface to the newly released book by Ilan Lapyda

This book is intended to be an introduction to the concept of financialization and fully realizes its objective. The young author, Ilan Lapyda, recently finished his doctorate at USP with a thesis on financialization in Brazil, and in order to write it, he had to master the vast literature on the subject that was formed since the pioneering and definitive contributions of François Chesnais . This book is dedicated to this great French Marxist, who recently died. The dedication spurred me on to write this preface because François Chesnais was a great friend I often met in Paris.

The book goes through all the major authors who have discussed financialization and neoliberalism – two central aspects of contemporary capitalism. I understand financialization as the capture, by the financial sector, of a portion of the world economic surplus that occurred from 1980 to 2008. Ilan Lapyda, however, sees financialization as a phenomenon that is confused with neoliberal capitalism. For him, financialization consists of “the predominance of financial logic in economic activities (and in society and politics), which leads to the intensification and diversification of labor exploitation to meet the rentier appropriation of produced wealth”.

It is a good definition, in which we see an important concept – “rentier appropriation”. In fact, we can think of neoliberal capitalism in this way, because while postwar social-democratic and developmental capitalism was led by a broad Fordist coalition, the neoliberal coalition that was behind the financialization process is narrow, formed only by a financial-rentier elite. And it promoted a huge increase in inequality in the capitalist world. François Chesnais was again a pioneer on this point.

As Ilan Lapyda observes, the rentier, focused on extracting income, is more than a simple creditor; this participates in “effective financing” and has a direct relationship with the financed enterprise (including having to wait for the return of its capital with interest). “The interest of patrimonial property (rentier) is not focused on family consumption, nor on the permanent increase of secondary markets, but on the guarantee of regular income and permanent liquidity of secondary markets”.

Ilan Lapyda works with two main authors. The entire first part of the book references the remarkable contribution of François Chesnais and his concept of “financial globalization”. The American imperialist project of globalization or globalization was at the service not of the American people, but of a financial-rentier elite. The aim was not just to open up the rest of the world's commodity market to the unequal exchange of sophisticated goods and services with high per capita added value for simple goods and services that attract low wages; it was also about opening up the capital market and including the whole world in the financialization process.

Imperialism is not only interested in exporting goods, it is also interested in exporting capital and, for this purpose, since the “neoliberal turn” of 1980, it has promoted financial openness. As a result, the countries that submitted – mainly those in Latin America – lost the ability to control their exchange rate and thus lost a fundamental instrument for their development.

After summarizing the thought of François Chesnais, Ilan Lapyda turns to another notable Marxist, this Englishman, David Harvey, who was a pioneer in the analysis and critique of neoliberalism. Still in the 1980s, he realized that there was a transition from Fordism to a system of 'flexible accumulation', which was thus a first name for neoliberalism. David Harvey and François Chesnais think alike. “Like François Chesnais, David Harvey also observes the decrease in the separation of the activities of monetary capital (which has interest and dividends as its objective) and industrial capital (oriented to obtaining profits)”.

I take advantage of this statement to make my own review of this excellent book. Reading it, we can get the impression that financialization, neoliberalism, and capitalism are the same thing; that among the capitalist elites there are no major conflicts; that the classic divergence between financial capital and industrial capital ceased to exist. I don't think so. Financialization and neoliberalism entered a crisis in 2008, this crisis also took on a political character in 2016 with the ethnonationalist and populist reaction represented by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, and collapsed with the Covid pandemic in 2020 .

The result was the “developmental turn” of 2021, led by President Joe Biden. Since then, the State has returned to the American economy, and the same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, in Europe. Joe Biden's government is involved in a major reindustrialization project and, for this, is making extensive use of industrial policy and increased public investment. A national development strategy is underway in the United States – something that has not existed in the United States since the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Joe Biden is meeting popular demands in this way, but it is difficult to consider that productive capitalism is not also involved in this larger shift in capitalism.

In Brazil, the Brazilian elites again reveal their backwardness and remain trapped in neoliberalism, but something wonderful has happened – the defeat of the fascist and neoliberal populism of Jair Bolsonaro and the election of President Lula. Thus, a new hope for Brazil appears. Financialization and neoliberalism are reacting harshly to what is emerging here, but the success of East Asian countries has made it clear to the Global North that developmentalism makes more sense, and the new Brazilian government knows this very well. Ilan Lapyda does not discuss this issue. He did, however, write a book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in understanding contemporary capitalism.

* Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira Professor Emeritus at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV-SP). Author, among other books, of In search of lost development: a new-developmentalist project for Brazil (Ed. FGV).

Reference

Ilan Lapyda. Introduction to financialization: David Harvey, François Chesnais and contemporary capitalism. São Paulo, CEFA Editorial, 2023, 160 pages (https://amzn.to/3QGuIPE).

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