Frances Coppola has written a thought-provoking piece drawing an eye-catching parallel between wage labour and slave labour to help describe the contemporary phenomenon of “The Financialisation of Labour”. Here I will argue that the major trends noted but not fully explained by Coppola – such as deteriorating labour conditions and the failure of corporate investment – are due to the very nature of contemporary capitalism as a whole, that I will describe as financialised capitalism. I will argue that we need to see the “big picture”, the specific nature of contemporary capitalism, if we want to explain the reality that Coppola keenly observes in her piece, and this big picture is best understood through the notion of “financialisation”.
The term “financialisation” originates in political economy and is used to describe in a systematic way the dramatic rise of financial activities and financial institutions within economy, society, and culture. Financialisation has been a secular and global process over the past 30 years or so, recently encompassing the global financial crisis and ensuing period of austerity in capitalist societies. It has been fuelled by deregulation policies and it has occurred often at the expense of the real economy.
Financialisation has been particularly associated with rising levels of household indebtedness and higher levels of inequality. Workers have borne the brunt of financialisation, suffering lower pay, higher unemployment, and worse terms and conditions of employment.