Posted by Jay Livingston
This month’s Atlantic has an important article by Simon Johnson about the financial crisis and the government’s response: “The Quiet Coup: How Bankers Seized America.” He argues that in the US, just as in emerging market nations, “the finance industry has effectively captured our government.”
Johnson alludes briefly to Bourdieu: “American financial industry gained political power by amassing a kind of cultural capital—a belief system.”
But now his fellow blogger at Baseline Scenario, James Kwak, makes the Bourdieu basis explicit.
In Distinction, Bourdieu’s best-known work, he described how economic class is reinforced by cultural capital . . . . Upper-class parents take their children to fine art museums and teach them how to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso; later in college, job interviews, and cocktail parties, the ability to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso is one of the markers that people use, consciously or unconsciously, to identify people as being from their own tribe.Kwak’s ostensible starting point is a Sunday New York Times piece on Treasury secretary Tim Geithner. But Geithner is merely the most prominent example.
Geithner got the cultural education that rich people get, except instead of just going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, he was educated in the culture of Wall Street. Just like an education in art history is a marker of class distinction that is used to perpetuate class distinction, an education in modern finance is a marker of distinction that sets off those who understand the true importance of Wall Street for the American economy. As long the powerful people in Washington, including the regulators who oversee the financial industry, share that worldview, Wall Street’s power and ability to make money will be secure.The article and blog post should be required reading.
That is the importance of cultural capital.