The financial crisis and post-structuralism

It’s been a busy week but on the train to and from York yesterday I finished Hugh Pym’s 

and started
by Michel Foucault.

[amazon_image id=”1472902874″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Inside the Banking Crisis: The Untold Story[/amazon_image]

Now, Hugh is a friend and colleague of my husband’s at the BBC, so anybody reading this might want to aim off for the personal contact. Having said that, I’ve got no hesitation in recommending his account of what went on inside the Treasury and the Bank of England during that extraordinary period from late 2007 to 2009. It’s a very well-informed description of the to-ing and fro-ing, the agonised discussions and negotiations, the hair’s breadth escape from a collapse of the everyday payments systems – which could have brought, it was feared, a breakdown of social order. The events were so dramatic that even in calm retrospect reading the book set the hairs on the back of my neck on end again – for I had thought at the time it was well worth having enough cash in the house for a few weeks’ worth of groceries and other necessities.

Reading this makes it all the more remarkable that there are a few signs of a replay – continuing international imbalances, the asset price bubbles, the complex and unmonitorable risk-taking by banks. Maybe all financial regulators and economic policy folk should read Hugh’s book to remind themselves of what needs to be avoided. One of the conclusions that emerges from the book is in one sense how well the UK’s policymakers – politicians and officials – dealt with an extraordinary emergency, for all that one can argue about specific judgements or criticise the policies that allowed it all to happen in the first place. The system did not collapse. Decisions were taken at great speed, in a normally slow and cautious environment. It underlines David Runciman’s argument in

, that democracies are slow and bumbling when it comes to normal problems but able to achieve cohesive actions in a real crisis.

By contrast, the 

sent me to sleep on the way back to London from York – it was Friday evening after all. So far, I’ve grasped that the book will aim for the shift in perspective for mainstream economics that Foucault gave us for punishment and madness, or in other words exploring the consequences of seeing what we regard as natural categories (madness, market forces) as socially constructed instead. It’s enough to make one wish Foucault had still been around for the financial crisis. I can’t remember who recommended the book to me except that it was somebody one would not regard as a natural follower of post-structuralist French philosophy, so despite the snooze I’ve got high hopes.

[amazon_image id=”140398655X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979: Lectures at the College De France, 1978-1979 (Michel Foucault: Lectures at the Collège de France)[/amazon_image]