By Matthew Watson
We’ve become accustomed to economists and politicians talking about “market forces” as if they are immutable laws of the universe. But what exactly is “the market”? Originally an abstract idea from economic theory — the locus of supply and demand — it has come to inform the way we speak about our relationship to the economic system as a whole.
In The Market Matt Watson unpacks the concept to ask what does it really mean to allow ourselves to submit to market forces. And does economic theory really provide insights into the market institutions that shape our everyday life? In tackling these questions, the book provides a major contribution to a deeper appreciation of the dominant economic language of our time, challenging the idea that we can simply defer to the “logic of the market.”
About Matthew Watson
Matthew Watson is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. Since October 2013 he has been an ESRC Professorial Fellow engaged on the project, 'Rethinking the Market'. He has a long and distinguished publishing record, including more than thirty peer-reviewed journal articles on various issues in the history of economic thought, economic historiography and political economy. His books include Foundations of International Political Economy (2005), The Political Economy of International Capital Mobility (2007) and Uneconomic Economics and the Crisis of the Model World (2014).
William Davies on Theory, Culture & Society wrote:
"Our economic life is inextricably shaped by the stories we tell in order to make sense of the economy, from the ‘folk economics’ of ordinary people to the theories held dear by scholars. This is particularly true for the discipline of economics which—as a swathe of work on economic performativity suggests—does not just describe an existing economy but rather ‘brings that economy into being’ in the first place, ‘creating the phenomena it describes’ through its concepts and models. This concern sits at the heart of Matthew Watson’s new book, The Market, a critical enquiry into what exactly we mean when we talk about ‘the market’ and the consequences of allowing one particular understanding of it to prevail. [...] The Market provides a valuable history of ‘the market’ as an idea, rendering unfamiliar something we often take as a given. In doing so, the book makes a useful contribution to vibrant debates within political economy and feeds into timely conversations beyond academia about our position as economic subjects. The density and nature of the analysis—which demands a working knowledge of economic theory—may, however, make this a difficult text for the general reader."
"The question he begins with is one that Marxists and post-structuralists are already very familiar with, namely of how ‘the market’ has become a thing in everyday political life. How is it that entire political programmes can be abandoned or ruined, because they have offended some ghostly force called ‘the market’? [...] Watson’s way into this question is to note that there is an entirely separate way of talking about markets, which is what he terms ‘the market concept’ as it has developed in the history of economics. He stresses that what economists mean by ‘the market’ (as concept) is very different from what politicians mean when they invoke ‘the market’ as some autonomous agent. [...] Watson’s history is built around three concepts of the market: the ‘descriptive’ one that is found in the work of Adam Smith, the ‘analytical’ one that was synthesised in the work of Alfred Marshall, and the ‘formal’ one that was first proposed by Leon Walras. The book takes us on a journey of increasing abstraction and mathematical complexity, such that the lived realities of markets gradually disappear from view altogether. [...] The absence of social theory, such as the language of ‘performativity’ or ‘hegemony’, from the book is a kind of performativity of its own, meaning that the book could be quite easily picked up and read by an economist who’d never heard of Michel Callon or Antonio Gramsci. I suspect this is deliberate, and that this is an intervention that has been crafted to avoid causing offence, instead inviting dialogue with a discipline that has become famously allergic to historicism or interdisciplinarity. Watson brings a quality and quantity of scholarship to the ‘politics of economics’ that is largely missing from sociological and cultural critiques of economism. By resisting the more well-trodden critical paths, The Market achieves an authority on the history of economics that deserves to be recognised across numerous disciplines."
Table of Contents of The Market
- The market concept in triplicate
- Symmetrical moral relationships: Adam Smith's impartial spectator construct
- Demand and supply in partial equilibrium: the Marshallian cross diagram
- Vectors of market-clearing prices: the Walrasian auctioneer
- The political rhetoric of "the market"