As the great crisis goes into its second phase, we have heard an awful lot about "the markets" and, rest assured, we are going to hear a lot more. There are quite a few main players in the crisis: from governments to banks, from political leaders to economists. But the reporting of it tell us that "the markets" are also one (or several) of them. But who or what are they?
In a piece in the Observer this Sunday, the economist, Will Hutton, refers to "the markets over a dozen times saying:
"The markets have issued a stark warning."
"The markets lurched downward ..."
"To panicking markets, it looked what it was ..."
"The markets have lost confidence"
"The markets have known these truths for some months"
"What has unnerved the financial markets ..."
"The markets' reaction is made worse ."
"The markets need the prospect of sustainable growth"
"The markets' judgments are brutal"
It is strange that reporters never actually tell us who, or what, these "markets" are. It is perhaps assumed that we know already, but it feels more is if the word "markets" refers to some indefinable, ineffable force to which we know we must just bow down. We don't need to question what they are and should not do so. We certainly should never put their authority in doubt, or terrible things might happen.