Home Forum Political Economy Market As Metaphor Reply To: Market As Metaphor

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Scot Griffin
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Scot, Your notion of a “market” refers to the neoclassical setting of perfect competition. But this is only one possible setting, even in neoclassical theory. In capitalism, a market is a setting where commodities are exchanged (usually) for money. This is a very general definition that can accommodate any commodity/ies, participants, institutions and patterns of activity. If you get rid of this concept, how would you describe the reality it refers to?

I agree that I presented the neoclassical definition of a market subject to perfect competition.  At the very least, though, the concept of a “market” should require the voluntary exchange of commodities, shouldn’t it?

So, let’s take a look at the infamous “company store,” the only store in town where commodities are sold to laborers by the company that employs them in exchange for company scrip (i.e., a form of private “money”) in which they are paid.  The goods offered for sale in the company store are curated (purchased, repriced to add a profit margin, and resold) by the company that employs labor to the laborers, and only company scrip is accepted for purchases.

Is the company store a market, or something else?

I think it is extortion by another name, something that helps secure the indentured, if not involuntary, servitude of the company’s labor force. The presence of an exchange of money for commodities does not change the asymmetry of power in the relationship that enables the company to not only consume the labor of its employees but the fruit of their labor, as well. The market has been made a tool for extraction and is not merely a neutral “setting.”

I am considering a variety of alternative metaphors, and I am not certain that any single one fully captures the reality of asymmetric power.  All I know for certain is that the reliance of classical and neoclassical economists on the term “market” is intended to hide power, to assume it away, and I don’t know how continuing to use that term can do anything other than slow down progress in understanding capital as power.  This is an error that Marx made, as well. In many situations, if you accept your opponent’s framing of the debate, you lose the argument.