The market is a weapon

I have spoken a lot about capitalism, states, and conflict in the modern world. But I have also been talking about music, and the market of music. I have been dismissive of the values of liberalism as separate from the market. Liberalism is a form of market alienation, taking the structure of the market and forming a distinctive image of its style but not its substance: power. The market is a weapon, and the blade is the system of prices, in which buyers and sellers compete for market share. Market power is not simply, as István Hont once argued, the corruption of economics by politics (why not the reverse, one may ask?). Rather, the market simply is a system of power. It is perhaps the most powerful single system on the planet. The world market is, in this sense, a world state or equivalent thereof.

The market and manifest destiny.

But the market is dynamic, reshuffling the cards of power by altering prices continuously. The market is a weapon of power. It is a kind of organism, sensitive to psychological states and physical capacities. It is a network with, as Hayek argued, greater knowledge of the parts of the whole than the political state possesses. But Hayek was mistaken when he argued this made the market a rule of law. The market is not rule-bound or law-like in any way. It is driven by, as Hobbes put it, ‘the pursuit of power after power’.

The market of music is unique in being able to represent the reality of the market for all to see and feel. In every market, most products are bogus, banal, or otherwise derivative. Original, deep, innovative products are hard to come by. The market itself does not produce originality but waters it down over time. But it can create the environment for original innovation by creating such variation and competition as imitates the natural world. This leads to selection for new characteristics. The market is a mad genius. The state is a tired parent. The market is a state in infancy. It is the germ of political power.

Markets arise at times when states are weak and need external support. The market eventually displaces the state and a new era begins. The market is the organising principle of social life before the emergence of the state. It is a state in embryo form, divided among the parties to trade, which are embryonic classes. The market is the cycle of birth and rebirth. But this is not an end in itself. The market is an organism. It is more than a mere weapon. But it is, firstly, a weapon, and it is the producer of weapons. The market is the key to the future.

This is not against Marx. For Marx, capitalism must develop all its capacities before a new system arises. Only when the market is a universal feature of social life can a rebirth become growth and maturation of the market into the form of a state. It is tempting to reign in the excesses of the market. But this will only unleash its forces more relentlessly. The market cannot be stopped. It is a world-historical process that must unfold. Let it unfold. Let the future crack open like an egg. Then the tyranny of market society may, at last, come to a close — and a new weapon will be placed in our hands; the weapon of a socialised market, a state of, by, and for all people. The market is the first step towards that future, but liberalism is holding it back.

Don’t let it. Let the future unfold. Take up the weapon of the market. And go to war. For so long as the market is the condition of our embryonic civilisation, we will not have peace. Growing up is a slow, agonising process. It is fashionable to say that the world is coming to an end. Perhaps it is. But a new world is possible. And humanity has only just begun. We have reached the fork in the path. I wonder what we will decide.


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