“How to Master the Money Maze”: Financial Capitalism and Financial Advice in 20th-Century Britain

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York)
Amy Edwards, University of Bristol
In 1983 Andrew Lloyd Webber, a man famous for writing West End musicals, launched a new board game called Calamity! Somewhat surprisingly the subject of the game was not musical theater. Rather it was the international insurance market. The box declared that players would take up the role of a syndicate, ‘insuring risks in this dangerous world’ from the ‘legs of a beautiful actress’, to a ‘Panamanian Supertanker on the high seas’.[1] Calamity! formed part of a much wider body of games designed to introduce ordinary people to the language, logics, and laws of financial markets.

This paper uses a case study of popular investment culture to trace the rise of financial capitalism in the twentieth century in terms of its relationship with ‘ordinary people’. Since the mid-nineteenth century, growing numbers of individuals have been brought into closer and closer contact with financial markets. This process has particularly relied on the growth of a financial advice industry designed to help individuals navigate financial markets and the institutions which constitute them. At moments where more popular and widespread forms of investment have increased, (often classed and gendered) fears about legitimacy, authority, and lack of investor knowledge have followed.

By tracing the changing forms and content of financial advice (including the financial press, popular share guides, and even financial board games and game shows) this paper will demonstrate that financial capitalism has relied on the production of investment-orientated individuals. In the late twentieth century, this specifically involved tying the practice of investment to individuals’ identities as consumers as part of a wider process of financialization of everyday life.

[1] Calamity!, Games Workshop (1983).

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