Monday, December 12, 2011

markets and capitalism are different things

Wherever I go, I visit local markets. By saying "markets" I mean this kind:

10 years ago, I spent much time in Zagreb. There I learned how to make Turkish coffee (well, it can be called differently, depending on where you are...Lebanese people may call it Lebanese coffee...I mean the coffee that you can read your fortune after drinking) and roasting capsicum (paprika). Dolac market in the footage above is great, but the other places in Zagreb are also wonderful. I stayed in Nova Cesta ("New Street"?), I liked the market near there. One day I found my landlady bringing a bucketful of capsicum from the market into the kitchen and then that she put all of them into the oven. Later on, after I left Zagreb, I once complained about the price of capsicum in other cities such as Frankfurt am Main or Brussels, talking with my Bulgarian friend. He agreed, saying that in his country also buying veggies was like stealing from farms.

I've heard that it is not so good news for the local cheese farmers in Croatia that Croatia will participate in the EU in 2013.

By the way, the footage below shows John Cage in 1985 visiting Dolac market.

In his DEPT: THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS (Melville House Publishing, 2011), David Graeber in the chapter which explains how the Chinese authorities traditionally promoted markets and regulated merchants simultaneously, argues that the Chinese elites were "pro-market but anti-capitalist," and then concludes that such policies led that "For most of its history, China maintained the highest standard of living in the world.(p. 260)" He explains that capitalism has to do nothing with "free market," but requires certain monopoly over markets to the contrary and that is why capitalism needs political power and military forces. Here I quote him:

This despite the fact that Confucian orthodoxy was overtly hostile to merchants and even the profit motive itself. Commercial profit was seen as legitimate only as compensation for the labor that merchants expended in transporting goods from one place to another, but never as fruits of speculation. What this meant in practice was that they were pro-markets but anti-capitalist.

Again, this seems bizarre, since we're used to assuming that capitalism and markets are the same thing, but, as the great French historian Fernand Braudel pointed out, in many ways they could equally well be conceived as opposites. While markets are ways of exchanging goods through the medium of money--historically, ways for those with a surplus of grain to acquire candles and vice versa (in economic shorthand, C-M-C', for commodity-money-other commodity)--capitalism is first and foremost the art of using money to get more money (M-C-M'). Normally, the easiest way to do this is by establishing some kind of formal or de facto monopoly. For this reason, capitalists, whether merchant princes, financiers, or industrialists, invariably try to ally themselves with political authorities to limit the freedom of the market, so as to make it easier for them to do so. From this perspective, China was for most of its history the ultimate anti-capitalist market state. (p. 260)

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