An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management

i learned about randy martin’s ‘an empire of indifference’ from a haymarket interview with the brilliant Ruthie Wilson Gilmore. thx for posting Léopold.

i find martin’s comparison of financial risk management with the war on terror/present day american imperialism to be incredibly useful. it helps us articulate the contours of permanent war as everyday business. the binary of those who ‘take risks’ in order to make profit and those who cannot do so and are therefore ‘at risk’ is also enlightening. perhaps it can explain the divide between ‘citizens’ (risk managers) and ‘others’ (unmanageable/at risk) which is something i’ve been struggling with for a while. also love the parallels between domestic policy (wars against crime, AIDS, drugs and poverty) and american foreign policy/militarism. so important. here is more.

Jesse Goldstein: What distinguishes financialization from other forms of accumulation is the focus upon wealth extraction through risk management. Hence, the “imperial unconscious” has shifted its focus from victory – defined in terms of sovereign control or development – to an active indifference, or the management of permanent war.

[…] the Federal Reserve initiated a period of monetarist policies centrally concerned with preempting inflation through the careful management of interest rates. This emphasis on the risk of potential inflation finds its correlate in financialized warfare, where the risk of potential terrorist acts could – like inflation – disrupt the regular operations of business and the free flows of capital. Hence, the war on terror represents a shift away from the cold war’s focus on deterrence, to a newly asserted focus on preemption as a strategy of risk management. There is a shift from enemies with weapons of mass destruction to enemies that ‘seek’ them, enemies that are potential, but not-yet, risks. American war (by which Martin means US militarism) manages the racialized others of its terror war as if they were all potential terrorists.

The strength of Martin’s approach is to always trace a topography of capital where apparently disparate social relations or institutional forms can be seen to display parallel logics. And so for instance, securitization – now infamous as the central pillar of the subprime crisis – need not be left to the financial pages, but can be seen more broadly as the de-localization of risk through its conglomeration and then abstract segmentation and management. Similarly, the war on terror links its disparate targets through their imperial securitization – in other words, the war homogenizes its enemy as terror, and then manages this de-localized risk through ‘leveraged’ interventions.

The securitized state, both domestically and militarily, is Martin’s attempt to financialize Foucault’s concept of biopolitical rule, the injunction ‘to make live and let die.’ He draws connections between the current terror war and the domestic policy wars against crime, AIDS, drugs or poverty of the ‘80s and ‘90s. These are not, as with Lyndon Johnson’s war against poverty, efforts to rehabilitate, but are instead efforts to police, punish and criminalize. The culture of poverty meets its correlate with a culture of terrorism, and the key binarization underlying this financialized logic is a division between those who are able to avail themselves of risk as opportunity, and those who are at risk; the self-managed and the unmanageable. More here.

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