Arbitrage, Uncertainty and the New Ethos of Capitalism

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Mellor, Philip A. ; Shilling, Chris (2016)

This paper examines the arbitrageur as a figure who both embodies the new ethos of uncertainty central to ‘financialised’ capitalism, and exemplifies the issues of ethics and innovation raised by those who now personify what Weber called the ‘devotion to the calling of making money’. We begin by providing a brief background to financial ‘abstraction’ in the economy, and the issues of dissimulation with which this has been associated, before suggesting that engaging creatively with Weber’s writings can help us identify uncertainty as key to the character of contemporary financial decision-making. It is against this background that we analyse the arbitrageur as an ideal-type personality who embodies a newly abstract approach to capitalism. This approach is frequently portrayed as unethical, but we suggest it can be associated with an ethics of managing the unknown through an innovative commitment to overcoming limits that has consequences for human life in general.
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