Yesterday someone on BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” defined a market as small businesses providing a particular product or service. I suspect this is a common mistake. Businesses are evidence of a market but they are not themselves the market.
When we talk of the market as somewhere we visit, we mean the marketplace. Economists when they refer to the market, do not mean a place but rather the people who buy things or potentially buy things.
They are right. It is people who make up the market, not the businesses or the market stalls.
Another problem is how we think of the market. These days the collective noun for the people who take part in the market is “consumers”. This illustrates how the pressures of capitalism have distorted our thinking.
The purpose of the market is not consumption, it is community. We have moved a long way from understanding community as something that grows out of trade. These days we expect community groups to hold everyone together. They are entertainment for a few but can’t compete with the marketplace, the local economy, for building community. Global interests have wrecked the local economy, leaving many people with no work and no marketplace.
In a world where multinational business extracts money from our pockets and transports it to off-shore tax havens, it is hard to remember or imagine the market as the hub of community life.
The market depends upon trust. Even corrupt practices need trust. If someone is flogging something substandard, I am not likely to buy it twice. I might buy it the first time out of trust, but I will know better in the future.
Traditional markets are places where people meet friends, buy and sell, worship, exchange news, hold courts of law, take a bath, relax …
We have separated buying and selling from the rest of life. Instead of seeing my business as something that enables me to enjoy life, it is normal to work for someone else to finance my debts. The idea of the freedom of the entrepreneur is not readily understood. There are major problems, especially if there are debts to be paid but many self-employed people’s experience is their place in the market brings them freedom and enjoyment of life.