The market : the new faith

10 May 2010 by Eric Toussaint

Practically all political leaders - whether from the traditional Left or the Right, from the North or the South - have a quasi-religious faith in the market, especially the financial markets. Or rather, they themselves are the high priests of this religion. Every day in every country, anyone with a television or an Internet connection can attend mass and worship the market-god - in the form of stock exchange and financial market Financial market The market for long-term capital. It comprises a primary market, where new issues are sold, and a secondary market, where existing securities are traded. Aside from the regulated markets, there are over-the-counter markets which are not required to meet minimum conditions. reports. The market-god sends his messages through television anchormen and the financial editors of daily newspapers. Today, this happens not only in OECD OECD
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OECD: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, created in 1960. It includes the major industrialized countries and has 34 members as of January 2016.
countries, but in most parts of the planet. Whether you are in Shangai or Dakar, Rio de Janeiro or Timbuktu, you can receive ’market signals’. Everywhere, governments have privatised and created the illusion that the population will be able to participate directly in market rituals (by buying shares) and reap the benefits in accordance with how well one interprets signals sent by the market-god. In actual fact, the small part of the working population that has acquired shares has no say over market tendencies.

In a few centuries, the history books might say that from the 1980s onwards a fetishist cult prospered. The dramatic rise of this cult will perhaps be associated with two heads of state, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It will be noted that, from the start, this cult had the backing of governments and powerful private financial interests. Indeed, for this cult to gain ground within the population, public and private media found it necessary to pay homage to it day in and day out.

The gods of this religion are the financial markets. Its temples are known as Stock Exchanges. Only the high priests and their acolytes can tread their holy ground. The faithful are called upon to commune with their market-god on television, on their computer screen, in the daily papers, on the radio or at the bank. Thanks to television, radio and the Internet even in the most remote parts of the planet, hundreds of millions of people who are deprived of the right to meet their basic needs, are also urged to celebrate the market-god. In the North, in newspapers read by a majority of workers, housewives and unemployed, an ’investment’ section is published every day, even though the overwhelming majority of readers do not own a single share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. . Journalists are paid to help the faithful understand signals sent by the gods.

To heighten the power of the gods in the eyes of the faithful, commentators periodically declare that the gods have sent signals to governments to express their satisfaction or discontent. The Greek government and parliament have at last understood the message sent by the gods and adopted a drastic austerity plan that has the lower classes paying the price. But the gods are dissatisfied with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland. Their governments too will have to contribute their ritual offerings in the guise of strong antisocial measures.

The places where the gods are most likely to forcefully express their moods are Wall Street in New York, the City in London, and the Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo stock exchanges. To gauge their moods, special indicators have been devised: the Dow Jones in New York, the Nikkei in Tokyo, the CAC40 in France, the Footsie in London, the Dax in Francfort,… To appease the gods, governments must sacrifice the Welfare State to the stock markets. They must also privatise public property.

Why are ordinary market operators given a religious aura? They are neither anonymous nor ethereal. They have names, addresses. They are the people in charge of the 200 biggest TNCs that control the world with the help of the G7, the G20 G20 The Group of Twenty (G20 or G-20) is a group made up of nineteen countries and the European Union whose ministers, central-bank directors and heads of state meet regularly. It was created in 1999 after the series of financial crises in the 1990s. Its aim is to encourage international consultation on the principle of broadening dialogue in keeping with the growing economic importance of a certain number of countries. Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, USA, UK and the European Union (represented by the presidents of the Council and of the European Central Bank). and institutions such as the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, which came back into the limelight thanks to the financial crisis. Next we also have the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

and the World Trade Organisation WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

, currently in a rather difficult predicament, but who knows, the gods might favour it again soon. Governments are no strangers to this situation; from Reagan and Thatcher onwards, they relinquished the means they had of controlling financial markets. The situation is now almost reversed: institutional investors Institutional investors Entities which pool large sums of money and invest those sums in securities, real property and other investment assets. They are principally banks, insurance companies, pension funds and by extension all organizations that invest collectively in transferable securities. (i.e. major banks, pension funds Pension Fund
Pension Funds
Pension funds: investment funds that manage capitalized retirement schemes, they are funded by the employees of one or several companies paying-into the scheme which, often, is also partially funded by the employers. The objective is to pay the pensions of the employees that take part in the scheme. They manage very big amounts of money that are usually invested on the stock markets or financial markets.
, insurance companies,hedge funds Hedge funds Unlisted investment funds that exist for purposes of speculation and that seek high returns, make liberal use of derivatives, especially options, and frequently make use of leverage. The main hedge funds are independent of banks, although banks frequently have their own hedge funds. Hedge funds come under the category of shadow banking. , etc.) received thousands of billions dollars from governments in the form of grants or loans to bail them out after the 2007-8 meltdown. The European Central Bank Central Bank The establishment which in a given State is in charge of issuing bank notes and controlling the volume of currency and credit. In France, it is the Banque de France which assumes this role under the auspices of the European Central Bank (see ECB) while in the UK it is the Bank of England.

, the US Federal Reserve FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank :
, the Bank of England now lend them money on a daily basis at a lower rate than the capital inflation Inflation The cumulated rise of prices as a whole (e.g. a rise in the price of petroleum, eventually leading to a rise in salaries, then to the rise of other prices, etc.). Inflation implies a fall in the value of money since, as time goes by, larger sums are required to purchase particular items. This is the reason why corporate-driven policies seek to keep inflation down. that institutional investors immediately use to speculate against the euro and against public money.

Money can cross borders without a single cent in taxes being levied. More than 3,000 billion dollars race around the planet every day. Less than 2 per cent of this amount is linked to actual trade in goods and services or to productive investments. More than 98 per cent is used for purely speculative operations mainly on currencies, on commodities Commodities The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals. , and on debt securities.

We have to put a stop to this death-breeding logic. We have to develop a new financial discipline, to expropriate the financial sector and exert social democratic control on all financial matters, to tax all institutional investors (which triggered and then profited from the crisis) heavily, to audit and cancel public debts, to implement a distributive tax reform, to drastically reduce working hours so as to offer more jobs while maintaining wages at their current level... In short, we must launch an anticapitalist project.

Translated by Raghu Krishnan in collaboration with Vicki Briault, Christine Pagnoulle and Judith Harris.

Eric Toussaint has a PhD in political science. He is president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt). He is the author of Bank of the South. An Alternative to the IMF-World Bank, VAK, Mumbai, India, 2007; The World Bank, A Critical Primer, Pluto Press, Between The Lines, David Philip, London-Toronto-Cape Town 2008; Your Money or Your Life, The Tyranny of Global Finance, Haymarket, Chicago, 2005. He has recently published Un coup d’œil dans le rétroviseur. L’idéologie néolibérale des origines jusqu’à aujourd’hui, Le Cerisier, Mons, 2010 and La Crise. Quelles Crises? (with Damien Millet), Aden-CADTM-Cetim, Brussels-Liège-Geneva, 2010.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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