At the end of this interesting Guardian piece on privatization in the UK is a good crystallization of an argument I’ve made, or tried to, in a few blog posts:
Markets are in the end man-made devices for utilitarian purposes, not a force of nature that we should not try to resist.
Most of us in the West like to think we’ve moved far beyond the atavistic proclivity of seeing spirits, or agency, in the moon, stars, and wind. But if you listen closely, and without deference, to what you hear from economists and pundits, you’ll soon realize we haven’t come as far as we might think. You’ll find we’ve traded shamans for economists, and it’s the markets that are the spirits in need of appeasement.
And only the economists know the spells. Take this passage from Satyajit Das’ Traders Guns & Money discussing former chairman of the Fed Alan Greenspan’s elocutionary powers:
Greenspan’s regular congressional testimony attracted financial analysts, journalists and linguists in equal numbers. An industry in interpreting Greenspan’s prognostications has developed. Without a hint of self-parody, Greenspan himself provided guidance to interpreting his pronouncements. ‘I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant’ the Maestro once offered as explanation. He further clarified his position with unusual directness: ‘If I have made myself clear then you have misunderstood me.’
Does that sound more like a scientist trying to explain and elucidate, or a shaman befuddling with large arm movements, attempting to keep his place at court?
And it’s only the power that we give to the magic juju of our modern shaman that can explain why the last sentence of the Guardian piece isn’t maddeningly, heart-breakingly obvious to, and accepted by everyone:
If [markets] end up serving the interests of only a tiny minority, as is increasingly the case, we have the right – and indeed the duty – to regulate them in the interest of greater social good.