A Marxist analysis of personal debt securities and risk

Bruno Hofig


The recent development of securitized personal debt and the emergence of risk as a thing-like entity have been cited by many social scientists as important factors in the rise of financialised (or neoliberal) capitalism. Yet, such phenomena tend to be regarded by scholars as absolutely contingent, and even as anomalous – and thus also as something whose sustainability is doubtful. This paper presents an alternative analysis of personal debt securities and risk. Based on Marx’s work, it shows that, by creating the socially objective illusion that any independent expression of a sum of value is naturally capable of generating interests, capitalist sociability also causes wages to appear as a type of interest. By doing so, such form of sociability underpins the development of a type of fictitious capital that results from the capitalization of (expected) future wages. As will be seen, personal debt securities are the concrete mode of existence of such type of fictitious capital. The paper also argues that, by creating the socially objective illusion that every capital is naturally capable of generating by itself an income of a given magnitude, capitalist sociability makes any deviation from the normal magnitude appear as an accident that could only have been caused by some exterior event(s). In doing so, it gives rise to a process of real abstraction through which all possible future events are stripped of their singularity and regarded as one and the same type of “thing”: risk. In this sense, risk is a social form immanent to the capitalist mode of production: as risks, events are given a form of objectivity that expresses their capacity to affect capital’s supposedly natural ability to periodically produce cash flows of a given magnitude. The paper concludes by arguing that the logical derivation of the forms of personal debt security and risk from the most basic determinations of the capitalist mode of production shows that the historical emergence of such social forms should not be regarded as an absolutely contingent, much less as an anomalous phenomenon.

Financialisation, - securitization - risk - fetishism