International Review of Economics

, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 197–212 | Cite as

The meta-crisis of secular capitalism

  • John Milbank
  • Adrian Pabst
Research Article


The current global economic crisis concerns the way in which contemporary capitalism has turned to financialisation as a double cure for both a falling rate of profit and a deficiency of demand. Although this turning is by no means unprecedented, policies of financialisation have depressed demand (in part as a result of the long-term stagnation of average wages) while at the same time not proving adequate to restore profits and growth. This paper argues that the current crisis is less the ‘normal’ one that has to do with a constitutive need to balance growth of abstract wealth with demand for concrete commodities. Rather, it marks a meta-crisis of capitalism that is to do with the difficulties of sustaining abstract growth as such. This meta-crisis is the tendency at once to abstract from the real economy of productive activities and to reduce everything to its bare materiality. By contrast with a market economy that binds material value to symbolic meaning, a capitalist economy tends to separate matter from symbol and reduce materiality to calculable numbers representing ‘wealth’. Such a conception of wealth rests on the aggregation of abstract numbers that cuts out all the relational goods and the ‘commons’ on which shared prosperity depends.


Meta-crisis Abstraction Materialisation Financialisation Polanyi 

JEL classification

P16 P48 Z13 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of KentCanterburyUK

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