Lewis Bassett of 3AM Magazine (“Whatever it is, we’re against it”) recently featured an interview with Brett Scott, author of A Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (Pluto, 2013. Together they discuss the usefulness of finance, the dubiousness of financial theory, and what you can do with financial instruments to “twist” the financial world.
When asked what he thinks about financial theory, Scott said that he favoured original thought:
3:AM: You write that “finance is a practice oriented industry” and that “the purpose of a system is what it does.” You say you don’t want to understand finance through the lens of any particular theory, why?
BS: In the end you are always going to have some sort of theory behind the way you see stuff. But the point is that within activist movements or any social movement there is a tendency to try and have an a priori theory and then you see finance through that. In an ideal world you want to construct understanding from the bottom up.
Scott then went into the inspiration behind the book’s title and its main focus:
3:AM: OK, so what is the idea of a Heretic? Who is this figure or why choose this word?
BS: In the book the figure of the heretic is somebody who has access to a system but who also tries to mess with that system. The word was developed to mean someone who would have differing views to the Catholic Church. If we look at religious systems in history, very rarely do completely different and new religious systems pose a threat to the religious establishment. In fact a dominant religious system often gains a lot of its strength from the othering of different beliefs. For me the idea is you could you create a whole series of financial heretics who are people that have the ability to access to financial system but who also tend on some kind of subversive activity within it.
The interview ended with Scott’s musings on the role of micro-financing:
3:AM: One thing you don’t discuss are profit motives or the role of profit as a means of driving history, and nor do you discuss property relations. There is an instance in which you discuss micro financing, something you seem to praise as a form of “financial inclusion” in developing countries such as India. And yet this is a financial tool that has been heavily criticised, for instance by Silvia Federici, as a method by which finance can further extract surplus even from the world’s poorest people. It would seem to me the problem here is not financial inclusion as such but the exclusion from resources, due to property. Do you feel that is fair to say?
BS: But again this goes back to there being immediate and pragmatic responses, in which perhaps micro finance has an interesting potential. It’s not a grand tool for global justice but it could be useful if used correctly. In the end I have a much more straightforward and pragmatic view, though I don’t know if pragmatic is the right word. I understand the broader implications of not making deeper level critiques. But as I said one of the problems I often find with the traditional left is you might have a great analysis of the structural problems of what is wrong with society, but how do you go beyond this? In India we might want some redistribution of property but is that going to happen? My immediate pragmatic sense is perhaps micro financing is the solution, in part.
Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy.
“This book provides a unique inside-out look at our financial system, based on the author’s unusual personal adventure. It is not only a user-friendly guide to the complex maze of modern finance but also a manual for utilising and subverting it for social purposes in innovative ways. Smart and street-smart.”
Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
“Money is power, but so too is knowledge. Tinkering with regulation will not change the world, but empowered citizens just might. Brett Scott’s entertaining and informative book is brimming with good ideas on how we can engage and change global finance on our own terms.”
Tony Greenham, Head of Finance and Business at the New Economics Foundation.
The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance is available now in paperback for £9.87, and in ebook form.