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The Narrative of Complexity in the Crisis of Finance: Epistemological Challenge and Macroprudential Policy Response

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Official accounts of the 2007–8 financial crisis have recurrently referred to ‘complexity’ in the nature of the securities transacted and in the structure of the financial industry as a way to convey difficulty to understand or apprehend, and thus to predict financial dynamics and regulate financial institutions. On the one hand, the complexity metaphor – as other crisis metaphors commonly do – naturalised turmoil and obscured agency as it subjectified complexity itself as a key driver of instability. On the other hand, it marked a departure from narratives of recent crises insofar as it has pointed explicitly to an epistemological crisis underlying financial turmoil. Such framing of the crisis yielded a powerful theoretical challenge to classical neoliberal assumptions about the exogenous nature of financial turmoil and helped shape a new consensus around the imperative of macroprudential regulation. However, the embrace of the complexity lens may remain relatively ambiguous. Though highlighting properties that render the financial system ‘complex’ and hence unpredictable, it ambitions to ‘manage’ complexity with better methodological tools.
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Keywords: complexity; financial crisis; macroprudential regulation; metaphor; systemic risk

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, 1021 Prince Street Alexandria, 22814, United States

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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