Portfolio Society: On the Capitalist Mode of Prediction

Ivan Ascher (Author)


As financial markets expand and continue to refashion the world in their own image, the wealth of capitalist societies no longer presents itself as it did to Karl Marx in the nineteenth century, as a "monstrous collection of commodities." Instead, it appears as an equally monstrous collection of financial securities, and the critique of political economy must proceed accordingly. But what would it mean to write Capital in the twenty-first century?

Are we really to believe that risk, rather than labor, is now regarded as the true fount of economic value? Likewise, can it truly be the case that the credit relation -- at least in the global North -- has replaced the wage relation as the key site of exploitation and political struggle? And finally, if precarity is indeed the name of today's proletarian condition, what possible future does it actually portend, what analysis does it require?

Through a series of creative substitutions, Ascher's Portfolio Society extends Marx's critical project in bold and unexpected ways. In this work, Ascher demystifies crucial dimensions of contemporary finance and considers the predicaments of societies whose own future is now shaped by volatile financial markets.

In the end, we may find that much has changed and much has not; relations of domination still endure, and mystifications do abound; but the devil is in the details, and that is where Ascher would have us dwell. At once a critique of modern finance and of the societies under its spell, Portfolio Society succeeds in revealing the potential limits of Capital, while reveling still in its limitless potential.

Product Details

$25.95  $23.87
Zone Books
Publish Date
September 10, 2016
6.0 X 8.1 X 0.7 inches | 0.8 pounds

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About the Author

Ivan Ascher is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.


Ascher's incisive essay deserves to play a central role in what I hope will become a movement of thought that brings down the wall between political theory and political economy.

--Theory & Event

Portfolio Society sketches out an innovative and exciting theory of class under financial capitalism, which, above all, serves as an invitation for others to think through the implications of Ascher's inventive appropriation of Marx's work.

--Cultural Politics

[A] carefully calibrated account of how financial markets affect modern societies that will please inquisitive college freshmen, political theorists and policy-makers alike.

--Science and Public Policy

Ascher lifts from Marx certain phrases or tropes or bits of analysis.... and wroks a substitution, inserting a new word, or letter, so as to make Marx's text speak directly to our society.... Hence, the capitalist mode of production becomes the subtitle's capitalist mode of rediction. These detournements are always provocative, and occassionally produce the electric concept short circuit that one associates with a profound pun or a surprising etymological connection.

--Contemporary Political Theory

Just as the rhythms of Capital might be said to reflect those of the factories and machines that Marx investigates, Ascher replicates the surface speed and deep complexity of the finance industry with which he is concerned.

--Political Theory

Portfolio Society makes an important contribution to theorising the contemporary economy, although it would benefit from greater attention to the detail of financialisation processes and how they are mediated through political and economic systems.

--LSE Review of Books