California & the Fictions of Capital

By George L. Henderson | Go to book overview

8
Conclusion

California has been a site of extraordinary energies since the late 1840s. Through the shocks of the Gold Rush, the bonanzas of wheat and citrus, the regions of replumbing, and the armies of labor--capital has circulated in many shapes and sizes. But alongside these material routes, the wheels of commerce have trod distinctive, discursive paths. The purpose of this book has been to trace these, using as guides the insights of political economy, historical and geographic case study, and the social and economic "theories" deployed in past narratives. Over the course of a decades-long debate, California's bankers, engineers, and ranchers, its boosters, journalists, and novelists obsessed over how to plant capital in the ground and keep it moving at the same time. That is, lurking behind what may in fact be a rather familiar historical premise here--that agriculture was a key feature of the post-gold economy--is the geographical ur-premise that the "ground" in fact poses as both attraction and repulsion for capital. Each time capital reaches for the ether, for instantaneous turnovers, it eventually learns the lesson anew that it must also remain earthbound and quotidian.

Take the state's bank commissioners, whose very jobs were the product of capitalist crisis in the 1870s. "The most noticeable feature, which we mention with much pleasure," begins their report of 1881-82, ". . . is a decrease of nine millions and a half ($9,521,742) in 'loans on stocks and bonds'--principally mining stocks--and a more than corresponding increase of nearly eleven millions ($10,711,191) in 'loans on other securities'--mostly grain" ( California Board 1881-82: 11). Having witnessed the reckless wane of the Comstock and the collapse of the once-unassailable Bank of California, the commissioners were delighted to see finance capital descend from the speculative heights of the mother lode. Their collective sigh of relief was certainly underwritten, too, by something a little less specific yet so pervasive as to appear self-evident: the cultural logic that agriculture has redemptive powers for capital. The peculiar significance of

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California & the Fictions of Capital
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction - The Alchemy of Capital and Nature ix
  • Part I - Making Geographies 1
  • 1 - Rural Commodity Regimes 3
  • 2 - Nature and Fictitious Capital 28
  • 3 - Toward Rural Realism Variable Capital, Variable Capitalists, and the Fictions of Capital 81
  • Part II - Excavating Geographical Imaginations 115
  • 4 - Mussel Slough and the Contradictions of Squatter Capitalism 123
  • 5 - Realty Redux 150
  • 6 - Romancing the Sand 175
  • 7 - Take Me to the River 196
  • 8 - Conclusion 215
  • Notes 219
  • References 235
  • Index 251
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