With financial giants toppling at rates that shock even seasoned financial commenter, many of us are left wondering, how did this state of affairs come to pass. What is becoming obvious is that the financial markets have become increasingly complex. In this article, Paul Bowman looks the nuts and bolts behind the economic headlines, explaining what is it that is being sold and why nobody seems to be able to stop the chaos from unfolding.This is the first part of a series of articles investigating the capitalist financial markets from a critical perspective. With such a large topic it is tricky finding a route into the subject and a plan of enquiry. The chosen road is to start with a look at the financial markets, particularly focusing on the mechanics of some of the instruments that have led to a momentous transformation of the workings of global financial markets in the most recent decades.
At first sight, this approach may seem odd, perverse even, like examining the internal workings of a clock as a prelude to discussion the social relations of time. However this "inside-out" approach is justified by the fact that as well as a system of social relations, capitalism is also a system with internal mechanics. Those mechanics evolve in response to the historical development of struggles over exploitation, but what new directions the new mechanics make possible in terms of capitalist strategies, in turn, shape the new struggles of today and tomorrow. The next article in the series will place these market mechanics in their fuller historical context. But for now let's start by investigating the mechanics of capitalist financial markets.