Before and After Crisis: Wall Street Lives On

Doug Henwood


My assignment for this volume was to write about Wall Street before and after The Crisis. My first thought was, that’s easy. Before The Crisis, Wall Street was the most powerful economic, political, and social force in the US. After The Crisis, Wall Street is the most powerful economic, political, and social force in the US. Ok, next essay.

Actually I must confess to being a little surprised at this outcome. I’ve never been one to believe – and I do mean believe, in the sense that it’s often a faith for which supportive arguments are mobilized after the fact rather than a logical conclusion following an evaluation of the evidence – in the fragility of the capitalist order or the tenuousness of US imperial power. The left is full of crisis mongers who’ve seen one coming every day for the last thirty years. But I did think that Wall Street was, to turn its own jargon back on itself, in for a bit of a haircut after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession. I’d assumed that its power, prestige, income, and freedom to manoeuvre would be scaled back, if not to the levels of the early 1950s, at least to something less than the lordly dominance it’s enjoyed since the bull market in stocks took off on the afternoon of August 12, 1982.

But that seems not to have happened. Wall Street has used the crisis, if not to enhance its power at least to demonstrate it. This essay will examine several dimensions of Wall Street’s rise to pre-eminence over the last few decades, it's exercise of class power through the crisis, and the prospects of the left in the aftermath of the crisis.

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