February 5, 2014
Enjoyed your column today (Shivers on Wall St, Trib Bus. 2/5/14)—especially appreciated that you stated flatly, “The market is a barometer of corporate health, not the fiscal health of the population as a whole.” Indeed, since 10% of the population own somewhere in excess of 80% of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds (EPI, State of Working America 2011), this is surely a topic crying out for more discussion. This question of representation has important, and reverberating consequences.
Of course you repeat the shibboleth about long-term investing, urging investors to hold on despite the turmoil. This is in some sense true, until it’s not. If the market represents only a small fraction of the public, one wonders when the rest of us will object strenuously to such self-serving fetishization, especially as many find themselves in difficult economic straits. And of course, as Keynes said, “In the long run we’re all dead” anyway.
Which I think is a process that is hastening, your citing of University of Chicago professor Eugene Fama’s Nobel Prize winning work is a tell. Fama is a neoliberal economist—his work captured the central principal of that specious secular religion by “advancing the theory”, as you say, that “markets take into account all available information at all times.” Fortunately you limit the reach of this assertion with your barometer comment above, and by quoting Tyson, the investing author who says “there is a disconnect” between the market recovery and the well-being of folks generally. These empirical and generally empathic responses to theory are yours and Tyson’s. Neoliberals do in fact believe that the market is the sum total of all information—not just about the market, but about everything, literally. There is no disconnect.
A group of colleagues and I recently watched a lecture given by Phillip Mirowski, a philosopher of economics at Notre Dame University in which he sketched out the difference between neoclassical and neoliberal economics and how we have moved from the former to the latter and the frightening ramifications of that movement. Here’s my blog post, which includes the lecture, introducing the talk on DePaul’s Institute for Nation and Culture online journal: http://environmentalcritique.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/is-the-market-a-hyperobject/ I encourage you to take the time to watch the lecture; Mirowski is a prolific author and highly regarded. It’s not a comforting picture, especially when you take into account the power of these true believers whose conviction rivals that of true believers anywhere.
By way of comment, perhaps prematurely, any substantive reflection upon this “true belief” reveals that it is utter nonsense and must be a product of either hubris or idiocy, or perhaps both, Nobel Prize or not. (Or perhaps some very particular motivation/proclivity, which I think, would likely include measures of the aforementioned). Economics is about as self-referential as anything we do—it can only stand for itself, its precepts. In all cases representation is always just that: a singular, even myopic picture of something; and there are as many pictures as there are picture-takers. Unless, of course, a singular picture becomes everything. That, succinctly, is what seems to be happening.
In the opening pages of his Simulations (1981) Baudrillard observes,
“It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it…[I]t is with this same imperialism that present-day simulators attempt to make the real, all of the real, coincide with their models of simulation. But is it no longer a question of either maps or territories. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference, between the one and the other, that constituted the charm of the abstraction. Because it is difference that constitutes the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real.”  (Emphasis mine)
This fits well with an earlier note to you in which I encouraged you to explore privacy and data collection more deeply, citing the work of UPenn professor Joseph Turow and reporting done by NYT writers Charles Duhigg and Natasha Singer.  The collection, processing and returning of data to the public in the form of tangibles and intangibles is the manufacturing process of a simulacrum—and that process is becoming ever more efficient—driven by the true believers in that specious secular religion, who again, are sure they can count (represent) everything. After all, what is a market, as it has come to be defined, but data? The mapmakers make the map. Flesh and blood people, who not only have the “charm of the real”, but its suffering as well, are not accounted for in the models. But you feel them Phil; so does Tyson, and so do most of us, however bewitched by neoliberalism we are—and we are bewitched. Yet reality, in some form, has a way of upsetting abstractions.
The headline for Gail MarksJarvis’ companion piece asks, “Tough year ahead or necessary correction?” My guess is both.
Best to you (and to you Gail),
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1981) PDF. For more on Baudrialld see Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, Edited and Introduced by Mark Poster (University of California Irvine professor of History, Film and Media Studies)
 Articles are posted under the rubric Divide, Shape and Profit, about halfway down the page.