We heard yesterday a neat example of BBC’s ideology. On Broadcasting House, Paddy O’Connell asked people about the “personality of the market”:
It’s an angry toddler, a fickle teenager, an ex-lover you can’t shake off, your master, your slave…an attention-seeking drama queen (21'03" in)
The horrible mixedness of this metaphor should draw attention to a big problem. The stock market is NOT like a person. Share price moves are the product of complex emergent processes which cannot simply be reduced to individual behaviour. Sometimes, stupid investors can generate a rational market, and sometimes rational investors can generate a stupid market: this is the message of Schleifer and Mendel’s paper, Chasing Noise.
What’s true of the stock market might be true of goods markets too. Alan Kirman’s study of the Ancona fish market has shown that there’s a negative relationship between price and quantity bought only in aggregate data, and not for individual buyers. The downward-sloping demand curve is, then, an emergent phenomenon.
The thing about complex emergent processes is that they are hard to understand – there’s a complexity brake – and even harder to forecast. This might explain why economists have generally failed to predict recessions in a timely manner.
This is why I say the BBC is guilty of an ideological bias. In not even considering the question of emergence, and instead pretending that markets are like people, it is assuming that complex social phenomena – not just markets but perhaps political behaviour too - are understandable and predictable.
This is no mere innocent error. If markets are like toddlers or teenagers, it’s possible to understand and predict their behaviour and so Very Serious People can claim to possess expertise and hence a legitimate right to power and influence in politics and business. If, however, they are instead complex processes they might not be predictable – except in the sense that we might know the probability distribution of possible outcomes – then those VSPs are in fact mere empty suits.
As Alasdair MacIntyre wrote:
Do we now possess that set of law-like generalizations governing social behaviour of the possession of which Diderot and Condorcet dreamed? Are our bureaucratic rulers thereby justified or not? It has been insufficiently remarked that how we ought to answer the question of the moral and political legitimacy of the characteristically dominant institutions of modernity turn on how we decide an issue in the philosophy of the social sciences. (After Virtue, p 87)
In unthinkingly denying the very possibility of complexity, the BBC is therefore helping to shore up the power and prestige of the ruling class. That’s a profoundly politically biased position.
You might object that I’m reading too much into what was just a jokey little piece. I’m not sure. Ideology reveals itself not just in our deliberate statements, but also in what we do unthinkingly. And it seems that the BBC’s unthinking position is one of excessive deference to false experts.