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As a slight aside there is a wider structural similarity between more conventional Marxism and neoclassical economics in their respective approaches to value/wealth. Both share a representational approach to value. For conventional Marxism value is determined by a hidden, non-measurable realm of ‘socially necessary abstract labour time’ (as noted above) which is then represented by money and prices (which can be calculable). For Neoclassical economics, value is determined by a hidden and non-measurable realm of ‘utility’which is also represented by money and prices (which, again, is calculable). These are variants of an invariant structure: they are both representational theories of value and money.

The analytical problem posed by this is to penetrate through the visible realm of money and finance to find the true hidden structural source of value and wealth. But representational theories of this type are ‘impossible’: they make present an absence, itself a logical impossibility. Thus perhaps Lysandrou is wise to avoid any serious consideration of the Marxist value domain (in distinction to the price domain) though he only falls within the embrace of another form of structural congruence as a result: one involving the two forms of market fundamentalism just described.

Missing dialectics

But Lysandrou’s form of Marxism is analytically combined throughout the book with a kind of Platonic dualism – or, rather, set of Platonic dualisms. The book operates at two distinct levels. First, an unfamiliar and highly abstract analysis of the commodification process, in which a set of dualisms drives the analysis (e.g., the interactions between population growth and technological progress; physical space and commodity space; internationalisation versus globalization; the ‘associative principle’ versus the ‘commodity exchange principle’; heterogeneity versus homogeneity; horizontal asymmetry and vertical asymmetry). And second, this abstract level has its own duality -– an empirical space of illustrative data and trends, which I will discuss in a moment.

What is missing from this schema, however, is a serious consideration of any ‘intermediate’ level between these two – that of ‘institutions’ broadly conceived – which serve to bridge the two other levels, binding them together in practice and which would produce a much more diverse and differentiated analysis of capital-isms.

However, this is something that Lysandrou dismisses, as in the case of the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach. The VoC approach of Hall and Soskice (2001) deals with institutions such as the operation of the labour market and wage setting, the innovation system, education system, political traditions and parties, the financial system beyond just banks and financial asset management, to produce a differentiated account of competing national capitalisms.

The only really active ‘institutions’ recognized in Lysandrou’s account are in fact organizations – the asset management agencies like investment banks and institutionalized investors. Competition between these organizations operates to establish the norms and standards for the trading of securities. It is trading between them that establishes and makes commensurate the universal, homogeneous, global characteristics and prices of securities in the financial commodity space, at this level something recognizable from neoliberal market analysis as well. They share a parallel vision of price formation.

But there is no time (or) space for elaborate dialectics linking zones or levels in the Lysandrou account, only a relentless application of the logic of the dualisms couched in an emphatic style and caught in a structural embrace of movement and counter movement. Of course, there are more nuances and caveats to the analytics than can be discussed here but I offer this in broad outline to give a flavor of the abstract nature of the book’s presentation. One suspects not everyone will be able to penetrate such a formalism, and it is a shame that the analysis is stripped quite so bare.

Even for an informed general reader to struggle through the early chapters might present too formidable a task. If they can however — or are determined enough to do so – they would be rewarded with a series of what that reader would find as quite startling statistics and trends.

Genuine originality

As suggested above there is a domain of empirical evidence accompanying the abstract analysis. Most of this is strangely tucked away in appendices at the back of the book which makes it difficult to relate it to the analysis as it goes along in the main text.

This is unfortunate because it is here that we find the genuine originality of Lysandrou’s approach. He is adept at fishing out the patterns of financial developments in an unconventional but highly relevant manner. If one wishes to know the detail of this it can be found in Lysandrou’s journal contributions published over several years. The book is really a highly truncated version of these and of the 47 references given in the book almost half (23) are to his own writings. As someone who has closely followed these writings over the years I can testify to their originality and richness.

But do we really need all the analytical gymnastics about a necessary commodification of the global economic space contained in the early chapters to either generate these statistical trends or to appreciate their significance? I doubt it. In their own way they speak very much for themselves. What they show is that we are faced with some formidable obstacles in trying to redress the huge inequalities that have arisen in financial wealth since the later 1990s and particularly after the 2007/08 financial crash.


[1]Inequalities and wealth taxes: consequences of the ‘commodification’ of everything | openDemocracy ....[2]Inequalities and wealth taxes: consequences of the ‘commodification’ of everything | openDemocracy ....