In a capitalist system, consumers, investors, and corporations orient their activities toward a future that contains opportunities and risks. How actors assess uncertainty is a problem that economists have tried to solve through general equilibrium and rational expectations theory. Powerful as these tools are, they underestimate the future's unknowability by assuming that markets correctly forecast what is to come. Jens Beckert adds a new chapter to the theory of capitalism by demonstrating how fictional expectations drive modern economies-or throw them into crisis when imagined futures fail to materialize. Collectively held images of how the future will unfold free actors from paralyzing doubt, enabling them to commit resources even if those expectations prove inaccurate. Beckert distinguishes fictional expectations from performativity theory, which holds that predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Economic forecasts are important not because they produce the futures they envision but because they create the expectations that generate economic activity in the first place: the expectation that money will retain its purchasing power, that capital investments will make a profit, that consumer purchases will satisfy our dreams. As Imagined Futures shows, those who ignore the role of real uncertainty and fictional expectations in market dynamics misunderstand the nature of capitalism.