Greg Downey and Melissa S. Fisher
introduction: the anthropology
of capital and the frontiers of
ethnography
For a brief moment in the late 1990s, journalists, business gurus, politicians
in the United States, and even sober observers abroad talked enthusiasti-
cally about a ‘‘New Economy.’’ Advances in information and communication
technology (ict), management and production techniques, and global inte-
gration, some proponents alleged, had irrevocably changed fundamental
economic dynamics. Workplace models emphasizing flat corporate struc-
tures and a bohemian approach to work became the hallmark of start-up
companies created by the new digital economy (Ross, 2003). In the hal-
cyon days of the New Economy, optimists contemplated a world without
business cycles, where technology, ever-increasing productivity, and globali-
zation were to usher in unprecedented prosperity and unrelenting expansion.
At the very least, venture capitalists, start-up entrepreneurs, and other inves-
tors began to think that the numbers would always go their way: the indexes
would continually rise in defiance of old rules for stock valuation. To be fair,
careful observers always noted countervailing trends, and pessimists pointed
to cracks in the consensus, immiseration in the midst of the boom, and
rumblings of crises brewing around the world. However, the robustness of
the U.S. economy and the excitement generated by the Internet helped to
drive the global expansion of ict as well as the spread of the ‘‘Washington
consensus’’ of neoliberal economic policies.
In January 2000, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a peak of
11,723, in spite of some troubling indicators; by October 2002, the average had
fallen to 7,286—losing about 38 percent—the slide dashing exuberant dreams
of the Dow vaulting over 30,000. The correction of the nasdaq average,
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