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New Left Review 9, May-June 2001


Consumption has long been the umbilical bond tying labour to capital. Is this beginning to shift towards investment, as passive participation in pension funds, and active speculation in mutual funds, become a mass phenomenon in North America?

ADAM HARMES

MASS INVESTMENT CULTURE

The reign of neoliberalism in Britain, Canada and the United States has witnessed the vast expansion of the mutual-fund industry, with a battery of mass-marketing techniques and friendly pundits at its disposal. [1] I would like to thank Stephen Gill, Eric Helleiner, Isabella Bakker, Timothy Sinclair and Craig Murphy for their insightful comments on earlier drafts. Neoliberal governments on both sides of the Atlantic have offered tempting tax breaks to draw small savers into the equity market through such funds (known as unit trusts, in Britain). At the same time, the switch from ‘defined-benefit’ to ‘defined-contribution’ pensions has left millions more with their futures dependent on the stock exchange. By the late 1990s, over 50 per cent of US households had a stake in the stock market, up from 25 per cent in 1987 (and from only 3 per cent in pre-crash 1929). This exponential growth, it will be argued, has led to the emergence of a widespread ‘investment culture’ which, in turn, has played a critical role in strengthening the hegemonic dominance of finance capital—linking the perceived interests of tens of millions of workers to its own by embedding ‘investor practices’ in their everyday lives and offering them the appearance of a stake in the neoliberal order. In this sense, the mutual-fund industry can be said to represent the mass marketing of the structures and processes of global finance itself.

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