Article: ‘High-Frequency Trading: Networks of Wealth and the Concentration of Power’

Full paper (author’s pre-press version): High-Frequency Trading: Networks of Wealth and the Concentration of Power.

Forthcoming in Social Semiotics.


The development of High-Frequency Trading (HFT)–automated trading of stocks, as well as bonds, options, and other investment instruments–provides a signal example of the political effects of computerization on a discrete social sphere. Despite the widespread rhetoric that computerization inherently democratizes, the consequences of the introduction of HFT are widely acknowledged to be new concentrations of wealth and power, opacity rather than transparency of information flows, and structural resistance to democratic oversight and control.

high-frequency trading

Even as computerized tools undoubtedly provide individual investors with more power relative to what they had before, they also provide powerful actors with relatively more power as well, in some cases effectively excluding the majority of individuals from insight or meaningful participation whatsoever, especially with regard to the political impacts of market activities. Reports on recent financial crises, and the 2011 film Margin Call provide narrow windows into the operations of HFT and the challenges it poses to democracy; these in turn raise significant problems for the view that computerization inherently democratizes.

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