V Conceptual Utopia: the market after the market

The Truth of the market

Maria Rosaria Ferrarese

  • 14.1 Presentation and main ideas page 319
  • 14.2 The “truth” of the market and some of its implications 320
  • 14.3 How do markets tell the truth? Between competition and

efficiency 322

  • 14.4 Finance and mathematical economics 326
  • 14.5 Which “free market” after the crisis? Truths and untruths 328
  • 14.6 Free markets and state capitalism 332
  • 14.7 Global markets, governance, and new institutional trends 335

Presentation and main ideas

Over the last three decades the market has increasingly taken centre stage in the globalised world, accompanied by a recurrent neo-liberal doctrine which proposes a “free market” and a “minimal state” as a winning mixture for the future (Garapon 2010). Multiple cultural channels have contributed to the success of the doctrine by suggesting that the market is a perfect machine for creating efficiency and competition as well as an extraordinary fixing mechanism to be applied not only in the economic area but also in reforming institutions. Thus, markets and institutions have both changed considerably with markets becoming more globalised and states reforming many of their own institutions in order to satisfy economic needs. In this chapter I will examine, on the one hand, the strength of the neo-liberal narrative of the market, which Foucault rendered through the idea of the market as “a regime of truth” (Foucault 2008) and how this was able to reform state institutions. On the other hand, I will attempt to identify some important aspects of real economic life that do not fit with that ideal image of the market, in addition to some untruths challenging the narrative of the “free market” as a machine of perfect competition and efficiency.

In my analysis, I will try to remain between two spheres: the sphere that Popper (Popper 1978) called “world 1” (that is to say, the world of real and material things), and the sphere he called “world 3” (that is to say the world of ideas, theories, and institutional styles), even though the two spheres frequently overlap, as Popper himself knew well and illustrated. I will start by examining “world 3”, attempting to summarise the general inspiration of the narrative of the “free market” and some of its implications. Secondly, I will analyse “world 1” and attempt to detect how consistent it is with this narrative. Finally, I will sketch the main strategies adopted in order to build the legal structure of global governance.

Before continuing, I would like to address an objection that might be made against, for example, the possibility of speaking of a global market as a singular and homogeneous reality. Of course, this might be seen as a rather rough and ready way of proceeding, which could conceal and ignore the plurality of the market, especially in a global era with many different kinds of markets and significant differences between financial and other markets. I might object, in turn, that a narrative claiming that some “virtues” regard all markets and can also be applied to all institutions is equally inappropriate. Moreover, speaking generally of the market might even be seen as a mistake or a way to gain a more overall view of the cultural climate of the economic field through the process of globalisation. It is no surprise, then, that the number of theoretical and sociological investigations into the general characteristics and implications of market dynamics has diminished, while books intended for market operators and professionals, practical guides and handbooks on specialised markets abound. Specifically, I am interested in drawing a general picture of global markets, a picture which, for the most part, is lacking in the literature. I will, however, make reference especially to the financial markets.

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