Sussex PM meeting: Samuel Knafo on the Gold Standard and the making of modern finance

Samuel Knafo will present the draft for his forthcoming book The Making of Modern Finance (Routledge). In this book, Samuel explores the construction of liberal financial governance by focusing on 19th century Britain. More than any other institution of financial governance, the gold standard adopted during this period epitomizes the spirit of liberal governance. Seen as the paragon of economic liberalism, it is held up as the archetypical instrument of laissez faire financial governance. In the words of Karl Polanyi, it was the supreme vehicle of market society (Polanyi, 1957: 214). This conception is grounded in a specific understanding of the origins of liberal financial governance that rests on the widespread assumption that 19th century England was a pioneer of the free market and laissez faire government. The book challenges this orthodoxy. It shows that the gold standard did not conform to the traditional image of liberal financial governance and demonstrates more generally that ‘liberal’ financial governance in the 19th century has rarely, if ever, been defined by a ‘laissez faire’ approach. In fact, policies which are widely seen to usher an age of free markets through the roll back of the state, are shown to have bolstered the ability of the state to control the economy. The central argument of the book is that the construction of liberal financial governance involved complex forms of control by the state which profoundly transformed the nature of modern finance.

Samuel Knafo is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex. His work focuses on liberal financial governance and he is now working on the ways in which speculation is transforming the nature of capitalist accumulation and neoliberal governance.

3-5pm, March 16, 2012,  in Bramber House, room  BH-237 (campus map).

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