Financial Capitalism and Its Critiques. Individualization and Collectivization of Responsibilities during the Libor Scandal
To answer these questions, it seems especially important for sociology to study the treatment of financial scandals. Since 2008 and the beginning of the financial crisis, different trials against financial traders occurred in France, in the United States and the United Kingdom, and have gained momentum in the public sphere. Our presentation will be precisely dedicated to the study of the Libor scandal, which occurred in 2012 in the United Kingdom. The Libor or London interbank offered rate is an average rate estimated every day by London based banks to exchange devises. Moreover, financial actors used the Libor to different purposes, from consumer credits to mortgages. Some of these banks were accused to manipulate these rates to help their traders to take better positions on the market. During the investigation of this scandal in the last years, several banks were condemned, and different traders are still waiting to be judged in the next years.
I will present here the results of an on-going ethnographic investigation of the trial of one of the traders involved in this scandal, who worked for the bank UBS. This bank was fined 940 million pounds by US, British and Swiss authorities to avoid any prosecution. Thomas Hayes, this trader, was charged of eight counts of conspiracy by the Serious Fraud Office. This trial is a good opportunity to describe, understand and therefore explain how these individuals can be presented in public discourse both as important agents of the crisis but also, in the same moment, as cogs in an impersonal financialized capitalist system of which they only revealed its inherent weaknesses.
Therefore, I will show first how such scandals take place in a more global relation, following Boltanski and Chiapello, between financial capitalism and its critiques. Second, I will argue that these trials can be understood as a sign of a broader and deeper transformation of contemporary political regimes, regarding citizens' expectations towards political and business leaders.