So here’s a whinge, an unreconstructed rant really: markets are inventions. We make them, we devise them, we regulate them, and we invoke them as tikis to an all-powerful naturalizing force that absolves all of us for the injustices that are fundamental to being here. The market is a proxy for mechanical relations. As time goes by that proxy is standing in place for any number of things: for justice, for politics, for God-like determinism, for morality, for a life well lived, for bodies in rest and motion, for the operation of power. The market acts as an alibi for everything, bad things and good things.
The delegation of agency to the market isn’t mere obfuscation. The invisible hand isn’t agency; it isn’t even a cover for other people’s agency. It’s a neat and deniable corral by which the blessedness of being is neutered and rendered into petty resources for allocation by some greater invisible hand. The primacy of the market becomes a shrugged acceptance, guess that’s just the lie of the land. It provokes even less interest or energy than things about which we can do nothing. Earthquakes and floods and dust storms produce a welter of action but the fact of food deprivation is a result of market forces and what can you do?
The market is supposed to be a space, a place, for the resolution of self-interested contests: once the invisible hand guides, and the market decides, the outcomes are just and fair for all. The naturalisation of this space, making it ahistorical (almost theocratic) is a shocking abrogation of wonder at the humble vectors of energy and exchange that led to our being, our being here, our being here now. All those thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of ancestors making decisions that led, directly though unmappably, to our existence, and to our sustenance.
The market didn’t make those decisions. There was some other way that practices of exchange and value were managed. Probably there were lots of ways; probably there still are lots of ways, to make arrangements for sustenance and growth without the market. But you wouldn’t know it. At every turn of public discourse you find the marketplace and the invisible hand ready for deployment as an excuse for the bad things that come about. Dealing with those bad things, mitigating and ameliorating them, might make the market a tolerable invention but actually over the past twenty years it’s been clear that states, governments, have been ceding their authority, their constituents’ agency, to the market.
Yet the number of levers and switches left that are available to governing bodies is next to nil. Really, there is only one, the chequebook. How much is a government going to spend, to what extent is the government of the day going to operate as an enormous syndicate in the market? How much friction is a government going to require the invisible hand to work with, or without? The politics of this friction is a nothing, a disingenuous contrivance of control and authority. The construction of the market as a natural force for efficiency is, to my mind, the core myth of modernity. It’s the ultimate get out of jail free card for governments and for citizens. No one need ever get down in the weeds of accountability and transparency because the market did it. I didn’t do it, no one saw me do it, you can’t prove anything. The market ate my homework.
Government doesn’t even function as a provisioner of bread and circuses, only as an enabler for the market to do so. We all enable it. We all go with the market flow, seek employment and remuneration, consumption and disposal, debt and asset. Incoming and outgoing, we all try to catch a market wave that will take us toward some naturalised place of safety and autonomy from which we might be able to thrive and flourish. We don’t though, not enough of us and not in the right ways. The market is a failed amulet for civilisation. So let’s move on, let’s invent something else. Please.