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Nothing is new under the digital sun

I have started this blog under the real and generous sun in Montevideo, Uruguay

This blog is a reflection on my place as an individual in the increasingly digitalized society and life in general. Our places on Earth might be physical or metaphysical, few or many. We are constantly placing ourselves and other people as well as being placed by them. The Internet and related new technology allow us to do it faster, more efficiently but, probably, less thoughtfully...How to use these powerful resources for creating good things: insightful lectures, inspiring texts, long lasting relationships, deeper undestanding of life as it goes on? Those are thoughts that I want to share with my students, colleagues and friends.

Answer to Peter

Guest column Posted on Tue, February 28, 2012 17:21:09

Right or wrong, the market is the irrelevant concept for the society’s use

I’ve been thinking about Peter’s recent post – “The market is always wrong” in terms of the market’s acting on the broad social issues as well as the right/wrong dichotomy. Since I’m, for obvious reasons, staying on-line more than off, I will use some Internet sources to make my points.

First of all, what usually appears under the “market” headline: I have Googled “market” and got links to retail market journal (; android market (apps for Android telephones), art market in Stockholm (exhibition), Wiki’s article about markets, antique market, stock market, money market and travel market among the first ten search results. On the whole, I got 549 000 000 results. Knowing how much time and money could have been invested by the authors of the corresponding sites to appear that high in the ranking, we might also conclude that those are Internet market’s most marketed marketplaces.

The article in Wikipedia confirms the commonly understood view of market as being the structure or process of carrying out a transaction and establishing the price of anything (food, telephones, apps, art, antique objects, money, travel + 549 000 000 other types of goods and services). Thus, we always need a seller and a buyer who decide on the price, which is, according to many market protagonists never wrong because the price of anything, whether stocks, bananas or art is what the seller and buyer agree on. Thus, if we talk transactions and pricing, the market is right. The value of anything is subjective, the price is not.

The problem is (and Peter points it out correctly) that so many social processes have become subsumed under the notion of the market or discussed in terms of transactions and prices. The market philosophy has extended so far and gone so deep into our lives that even the voices of the most passionate opponents of the all-embracing market philosophy like Pierre Bourdieu (“Acts of resistance”) are too scattered. The prophets of marketplace are too many and they proliferate this term with an even greater passion than before. The social forces that should resist the market trend (government, educational institutions, media, sport, art, and cinema) often choose to go with the market flow. What are the results? The electorate is sold and bought discrediting the very notion of democracy (US and Russia are best examples); governments sell the public institutions to irresponsible owners (Swedish healthcare and free schools); university professors pursue high paid consulting careers instead of teaching our youth to become the intellectuals; media seeks profits through the low quality entertainment, talented athletes are treated as raw breed horses; national treasures disappear in the private mansions; blockbusters fill the pockets of studios and erase our remaining brain cells. These social entities were never designed with a price tag. Priceless, transaction-prone they are.

Not anymore….

Market is wrong when applied to the social, public, common, and needed by many. Those are not commodities that should be bought and sold for profit. Market is right when applied to the exchangeable commodities. We have to re-define what they are.

The market is always wrong

Guest column Posted on Tue, February 28, 2012 08:38:08

The market is always wrong

There is a widespread mantra among neo-liberalists that the market is always right. The most (melo)dramatric version of this view is the idea that the customer is kind, which, consequently, make the rest of us docile subjects. This idea (or ideology) is crucial for the legitimacy of marketing work. What could possibly be suspicious about a work task that has one and one goal only: to serve the market? Giving the market, a market that is always right, what is wants can obviously not be wrong.

However, I have increasingly started to suspect that the opposite is in effect the case. The market is always wrong. By definition.

The market can, as little as anyone else, know what the future will deliver. It is difficult, to say the least, to possess knowledge of what you don’t know that you don’t know. Progression, development, change and revolution seldom stem from market demands since market demands can only be formulated with the frames of what we already know (“I want more of this”). It seems to me that deep changes of society emanate from productive activity, e.g. entrepreneurial projects, political activism, art, education, spiritual practice. If anything, consumption is (sometimes) a good reflection of broader ideological, ideational and spiritual changes in society.

Moreover, allowing the market to make the crucial decisions is deeply undemocratic. The central agent in the market is not demos (people), it is nomisma (money). It should come as no surprise that our voices in the so called “consumer/market democracy” are unequally distributed among us.

If we want a somewhat radically different future, please don’t listen to the market. Pay attention to citizens and democratic subjects rather than the customer-king. Please, don’t ask the market. It is always wrong.

Or perhaps I’m (so) wrong…

Peter Svensson