The return of meshwork markets
Amended transcript of a lecture delivered to the Meshwork of Marketeers, Cracow middle-europe 16th October 2049
Looking back, it was the collapse of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) trade talks in 2006, that was the beginning of the end of a competitive global market. After five years of intense negotiation developing countries were outraged at the way in which the interests of Europe, Japan and the US were being used to intimidate them into singing up to a viciously unfair, new round of ‘Free Trade’ agreements. The competitive Global marketplace (The Market) exploited the poorest people and expropriated their resources, while GATT’s enforcement arm the Multinational Trade Organization (MTO) – known colloquially as the Free Trade Police (FTP) – enforced its agreements with extensive global powers and brutal trade sanctions. Most sub-Saharan African Trade ministers walked out in disgust, citing the coupling of a ‘development agenda’ to the opening of their local markets to the competitive global ‘Free Trade” ma rket, as simply corrupt .
In theory the World Trade Organization (WTO) through GATT was supposed to prevent protectionism – the manipulation of financial prices through import tariffs and reproduction subsidies – in The Market by the rich trading nations, while granting a degree of protectionism to developing nations markets . The principle makes sense, The Market had vast capital, power, experience and economies of scale, so to let The Market compete with small local markets was not competition, it was like learning to swim in a flood, and local markets drowned. Yet the ideological drive of The Market’s advocates could not tolerate even limited protectionism, and so the last great global trade negotiations collapsed. It was becoming obvious, that for all its rhetoric The Market did not transfer, distribute or even circulate wealth; it concentrate power in monopolies.
For instance, in 2006 the merger of Acelor and Mittal Steel into Acelor-Mittal produced the world’s largest global steel company, with annual shipments of 75.2 million tons and revenues of over 38.6 billion US dollars. They owned steel-making facilities in 46 countries, spanning four continents an employed 500,000 people. Acelor-Mittal Steel consolidated (read monopolized) the world steel industry through a range of acquisitions, many through purchasing formerly public sector-owned companies. And I’m sure that you are all only too well aware, that they once owned the Heritage Steelworks near to where I’m speaking to you from today. Nowa Huta was one of only two Soviet (Soviet used to mean state dominated anti-market economies) ‘ideal cities’ ever to be constructed, and it was built around the gargantuan ‘Lenin’ steelworks. Which, after the introduction of The Market and the move out of public ownership, became the Sendzimira steelworks. Acq uired by the Mittal group in 2004, steelmaking ceased in 2010 and production moved to Rangoon to be closer to Chinese and Indian demand. Although the Steelworks re-opened in 2014 as a part of Nowa Huta’s re-branding as an ‘event’ city, and it became a UNESCO protected ‘communist’ World Heritage site in 2016 with former steelworkers performing surrogate labour for visiting tourists.
In many ways, it’s the revitalization of this redundancy by our meshwork – and Now Huta is almost a micro-model of global trends, it could equally well be applied to Nanjin or Wolfsburg (another perfect example), or Lucknow – that we are celebrating today.
Although perhaps the clearest example of the powerful monopolizing forces at work in The Market, was the extraordinary financial profit generated through deregulated trading in the momentary price differences between various currencies. Currency trading enabled billions of US dollars of financial speculation to roam the globe looking for competitive advantage. Released from the post World War II, Bretton-Woods agreement in 1971, and devolved of national political management during the unprecedented ‘ free market’ ideology of the 1980’s, financial trading exploded in size, ubiquity and liquidity. The scale of financial trading was truly staggering. For example the turnover in the currency market alone was estimated at 2.4 trillion US dollars a day in April 2008 , which meant that in two months the financial profit from traded currency dwarfed the annual financial turnover from manufacturing and retail of the entire planet. That’s more financial profit in two months than that generated from the production and consumption of every material thing on the planet in a year. And currency trading was but one of the five principle ‘money’ markets, the other four being bonds, stock, derivatives and commodities. Its worth me reminding you that %75 of currency trading was dominated by five brokerage firms .
It was in a mid-nineteenth century nation called England, a satellite of Old Europe, that the social experiment to emancipate economic life, The Market, from social and political consequence began. In a city called Manchester, they pioneered a new form of social exchange they named the ‘Free’ Market, it was an economy – of money, labour, material and processes – from which financial profi