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Vampire finance sucks the lifeblood out of the economy

Vampire finance sucks the lifeblood out of the economy

We need democratic control of the financial sector. An interview with Saskia Sassen

The World Economic Forum. Photo by Studio Roosegaarde (Flickr)

Every year to coincide with the World Economic Forum, the Transnational Institute based in Amsterdam launches a State of Power report to expose and deepen our understanding of the mechanisms that elites use to maintain power and concentrate wealth. For its eighth edition, the report has focused on the financial sector, asking why it has grown more powerful despite causing the financial crisis of 2008. The report features this interview with renowned sociologist Saskia Sassen who has written extensively on how finance has changed the nature of cities today and how its logic of extraction has fuelled new forms of expulsions and dispossession. The interview concludes with a discussion of fractures in the power of ‘high finance’ and how citizens’ movements might take advantage to advance a democratic control of money. 

How powerful is finance today and from where does it derive its power?

First, finance shouldn’t be confused with traditional banking. We need banks – they sell money – whereas finance is a mode of extraction, just like mining: once value has been extracted they don’t care what is done with it. A traditional bank wants its customers’ children to be future clients, so it cares about relationships, but finance doesn’t care at this personal level, except if they are very, very rich.

Second, finance is a dangerous sector because financiers have learnt how to financialise just about everything. And they do this not through traditional banking practices, but through algorithms and highly speculative manipulations. They have invented instruments to serve themselves rather than whoever they are advising. Which means they often don’t lose even when their clients do.  

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