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How Finance Became the Problem

Over time, finance has evolved from playing a crucial but merely intermediary role in the economy, to becoming the driving force behind most decision-making, even by governments. Financialization has become so deeply rooted that we seem to have unlearned politics.

NEW YORK – Finance used to be a means to an end, not an end in itself. From food and housing to family vacations, everything in our daily lives must be paid for one way or another. If we don’t have cash on hand, we turn to a lender for a credit line.

Companies do the same. They routinely finance their operations by borrowing or issuing equity stakes to investors, who will part with their money in the expectation of future returns. By bringing these counterparties together, capital markets play a crucial role in the economy. So far so good.

But finance is no longer just an intermediary that channels money from savers to borrowers. No longer are its functions confined to putting money in the hands of people who will pledge to pay back the principal, plus interest, in the future. On the contrary, finance is now in the driver’s seat, setting the agenda for others, including governments.