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Rethinking the Market

Stocks, bull avenue, bear street, housing, for sale sign
Challenging orthodoxies to put people first

Q1: Which meaning of ‘the market’ has come to dominate political discourse?

The idea became popularised in the 1980s that market trends could impose themselves over the will of elected governments and, as a consequence, that the only feasible political strategy was submission to market ideology. Ever since, ‘the market’ has been treated as if it was an omniscient entity, incapable of being overwritten by political decree in its innate quest to direct economic resources in the most efficient manner possible.

Q2: How has this meaning of market ideology proved to be so believable?

It has become politically believable because it seems that it is all we ever hear about how best to organise the economy. It has become less of a modern folk wisdom and more of an inalienable Truth with a capital 'T'. But the argument makes little sense analytically, as it projects an image of ‘the market’ as an actor in its own right, capable of embodying political interests and asserting a political will that it has appropriated from elected governments.

Q3: Are markets ever going to go away or are we stuck with them in their current form?

Market logic is increasingly being applied to how we live as a society and to ever more elements of human life. In the process it is turning these, too, into potentially tradable commodities. The underlying political tendency is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. The choice is either to sit passively by or to begin imagining how to work both against and within existing markets to challenge their inbuilt political logic towards enhanced commodification.

Q4: Is it time, then, to give serious attention to what it might take to rethink the market?

I would certainly want to argue that it is. Even though I cannot hope that my project will have all the answers, it will have served an important purpose if it begins to ask relevant analytical questions about how the populist image of ‘the market’ has become so deeply ingrained and what might be done to show how things might be different. The history of economic thought, for so long considered an arcane academic pursuit, holds the keys for both developments.

The research will be of interest to:

(1) Those who work in the field of International Political Economy (IPE). One of the project books unites IPE with an intellectual history of the market coordination problem to show how it risks becoming trapped within questions that ultimately highlight failures within economists' own theories. Research Outcome #1

(2) Those who constitute a wider social science audience concerned with how economic theory projects itself culturally. A further book examines how concepts related to the modern meaning of the market come to everyday prominence through popular culture. Research Outcome #2

(3) Those of both an academic and a non-academic orientation who have wondered why the global financial crisis has not led to more substantial practical changes. A third book focuses on the reasons why ideas for the post-crisis economy remain wedded to the same basic market ideology that caused the crisis. Research Outcome #3

  • The UK pound (2007) is worth 83p in real wages today in the aftermath of rescuing collapsing financial markets
  • US$3.98 trillion: The average daily turnover on the foreign exchange market as reported by the 2010 BIS Triennial Survey
  • There are no serious political parties in the UK offering an alternative economic policy to market ideology
  • 80 of every 100 people surveyed in a November 2012 YouGov poll believed that deliberate market manipulation is endemic amongst UK banks
  • Ratio of income growth is 21.9:1 for top 10% of US earners compared to bottom 10% over last 30 years
  • Factor increase of 40 for people in the UK receiving
    3 days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks since the advent of austerity made it more difficult for people to feed their families through market means

  • 2.5m Euros: Current market price of single rare tulip bulb during the 17th Century Dutch 'Tulipmania'