On the Languages of Markets (The Distinguishedl Lecture)

Publication Year : 1991

In this essay, I look at differing conceptions of the market,ranging from the concrete where it is regarded simply as a place, to theabstract where it is looked on both as power and as a principle, andwhere its attendant vocabulary can be used to give meaning anddistinction to the relation between God and man.1 As such, I want tolook at market, not as a keyword in the terminology of RaymondWilliams,2 but as a concept3 with widely differing meaning acrosscultures, and more specifically, across time within the same culture.Even though this opens up a vast subject, what makes the projectmanageable, and in line within the limits of my _own competence, is themotivation which leads me to undertake it. My primary motivation is toshow that the language of economic theory in the last half century hasundergone a shift in orientation and emphasis, and this shift has had,as an important corollary, a corresponding shift in our normative andevaluative stance towards markets and exchange. I document these shiftsand set them in other contexts to show that they reflect an age-oldtension between differing conceptions of man and society, and ofindividual self-interest and the larger public interest. I examine howthese conceptions are seen with reference to each other, and how themeaning given to the term market leads them to conflict orcoincide.

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