The Time of Money by Lisa Adkins

Rating: ★★★

I feel conflicted about The Time of Money. On one hand, it makes many interesting points about time and financialization. I particularly liked the section where Adkins dissected the claim that the Great Recession would set women back by relegating them to housework. Implicit in this statement is the assumption that women cannot be unemployed - they are either working in a job or in a household. There are plenty of other similarly sharp observations in The Time of Money.

On the other hand, a large portion of the book is spent talking about this guy Bourdieu and his weird ideas about time, specifically that time moves as a result of people’s actions (at least that’s how I read it, this might be wrong). If you accept Bourdieu’s premises, you end up with some neat conclusions, most importantly that people aren’t the calculating actors that economics makes us out to be. My problem is that the premises are implausible (Adkins also seems to say as much), so why even include this stuff? Why not go a different route to get to the same interesting destination? It was a worthwhile read nonetheless.

Here are some of the ideas I found most interesting:

Post-Fordism's effects on women

Unlike the Fordist era, all adults today have a duty to work; income from the state is now more conditional and precarious.

This has resulted in a new set of ideals for women: "These include employment, wage earning, excessive attachments to waged work, intensive motherhood, and a rearticulated domestic femininity defined in terms of heterosexual intimacy and an entrepeneurial, investor attitude toward the domestic space and the work of social reproduction" (The first thing I thought of when I read this was mommy blogs.)

Post-Fordism also has unique forms of suffering for women: "These include constant and exhausting labor, as well as specific feeling states such as guilt and shame and the fatigue of constantly deferred hope."

Focus on wages is overly narrow

Some contemporary thinkers talk about the need for workers to retain more of the value that they create, but this has a critical flaw: attempts to re-anchor wages to value are problematic because they involve a search for fundamental, "real" value, which doesn't exist.

Instead of arguing over wages, we should think about desired end state: access to money. Does it really have to be through wages reflecting value? "Instead of endeavoring to undermine the ideal of the asset-owning and interest-earning investor worker-subject through attempts to reinstate the fiction of the commodity-owning free laborer, why not embrace this ideal and develop an ambitious set of goals for this worker-subject." Maybe we could fulfill neoliberalism's unmet promises.

The strange logic of women "losing progress"

Reports after the Great Recession said that women were at risk of losing the progress they made in the labor market, and that they'd go back to being housewives. This is dumb! It rests on the assumption that "if women leave work, they will necessarily be carers, wives, and mothers" – that there are only two states for women: at work or in the home. It denies the existence of woman who is simply unemployed.

Speculation is rational

"The idea that money, debt, and finance are immaterial fails, then, to recognize that their very operations are at the heart of the organization of social life - indeed, fails to recognize the operation of speculation as a rationality."