A new term entered the lexicon of financial and economic journalism: toxic assets. (The picture illustrates the search volume and news references to the term, taken from Google Trends.)
“Toxic assets” are high risk financial paper whose contents are uncertain, obscure, but one is sure that they are bad, evil, contagious, and will kill you. The term is shorthand in the media’s quick flow of opinion and analysis, and it works to heighten our sense of danger and urgency. Toxicity frames our present predicament as a clean up job. The crisis is like an offshore oil spill needing first containment, then sweeping of the sludge.
Ontological work of this kind, done in the media, is an integral part of knowledge making.