Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma
Chapter 17: Are markets everywhere? Understanding contemporary processes of commodification
The expansion of markets and of market rhetoric is one of the defining signs of our age. In this chapter, we explore the sense by which dominant economic discourses and social processes of commodification are part of an interconnected movement. By so doing, we show how economics relates with the way the economy is structured. Economic theory influences the way individuals perceive themselves and their motivations, how they perceive others with whom they interact, and the type of institutional context where this interaction takes place. We contend that the so-called ‘economic imperialism’ is an extreme version of a tendency, carried out most expressively in mainstream economics, to universalize and naturalize a contentious version of a particular economic institution – the market –and the egoistic motivations that individuals supposedly exhibit within it. In fact, economists who subscribe to economic imperialism end up favouring the idea that everything can be seen as reducible to a market transaction, leaving ‘no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” ’ (Marx and Engels, 1998 , p. 242). These imperialistic discourses, by creating a series of metaphors through which all sorts of human interactions are perceived, should not be seen as innocuous exercises, because the way we look at the world influences how we act upon it.
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