Word Games: Market

There was an intriguing sentence in the letter sent to the Telegraph by all those mighty businessmen recently. About halfway through, it says: "As recent events in some European countries have demonstrated, if the markets lose faith in Britain, interest rates will rise for all of us."

Well, blow me down. Until now, I had no idea that "the markets" were religious. I knew they were godlike (obviously) from the way politicians bow down before them, and presumed (given their propensity to wreak havoc and cause suffering) that they were of the Greek variety.

If the markets have faith, that means they have beliefs; and beliefs require a spirit and a mind. And there was me thinking that the market was a generic term referring to a financial system of commercial exchange.

Why do we like to turn abstract ideas into living things? The market is anthropomorphised all the time: it "recovers" and "thinks" on a daily basis, according to the press. It even makes mistakes. (Naughty market!) Often you'll hear that the market has "dictated" a turn of events - the success or failure of a company, the price of a stock. Dictating seems appropriate: market as autocrat. I wonder if we give the market human (or dictatorial) attributes because we are so amazed by the power it has over us that our only way of explaining our subservience is to think of it as a coherent and living force, equipped with an army.

But that all seems absurd when you think about the market in its basic form: a bunch of mouthy stallholders flogging potatoes and flowers. It's a barrage of voices, a muddle of smells, a collection of individuals bound by a desire to sell. Yes, there are volumes of economic history that chart
the morphing of the physical, geographically located market to the abstract behemoth of neoliberalism that is the market today. But let's not worry about that. Let's worry about why a group of respected business leaders talks about the market losing "faith". Well, dear market, if you do lose faith, and feel like trying out a new one, might I suggest Buddhism? It might calm you down.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 25 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, What a carve up!