Thursday, 4 August 2011

Meet the markets

Yesterday Italian journalists spent the day telling the Italian public that we were all nervously waiting for Berlusconi's crisis (or anti-crisis) speech at the Parliament. Many also told us that while we still had to wait in trepidation we shouldn't expect anything new or useful.
Nothing new or useful was said after all and all newspapers opened this morning with big dull titles about same old same old. The media hasn't found the morbid crime of the summer yet.
If you want to hear what a failure the prime minister's speech was, the foreign press is eager to tell you: the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Irish times, the Australian, the BBCDeutsche Welle, you name it...

But what I'd like to discuss is something that may sound even more un-newsworthy and obvious, that is the way we are used to talk about markets. The way we are taught to think about the markets.
The radio was quacking in the background all day and I kept hearing "the markets ... the markets ... the markets ...." and after a while I felt for them, the markets, poor chaps, poor family, poor rock band... But WHO are these markets anyway?

In Italian, as well as in English, there seems to be a massive tendency to anthropomorphize the markets. Just reading through the articles mentioned before we find plenty of examples, there are "stunned markets", "nervous" markets, the Deutsche Welle titles "Berlusconi seeks to soothe market nerves".
So it's normal, that's how one conventionally speaks about the markets, the economy and lots of other inanimate things, we make them human, it a bit like seeing a smiley face in the moon (we do that all the time, it's called pareidolia) it's the way our brain works, we just can't help it, can we?

I did a very informal analysis of how the markets are represented in the Italian media, looking at the past month's news on a variety of outlets (moderate, left wing and right wing dailies, financial papers, catholic press, weeklies) and the picture that emerged was very much homogeneous. The markets are people, just like you and me.

They have cognitive processes:
the markets judge, the markets have understood, the markets don't give much weight to the declarations,  the markets think, the markets obviously doubt about it, the markets are skeptical, the markets will start to make conjectures, the markets believe, the markets are ever more convinced, the markets know, the markets are not stupid ...

Emotional ones:
the markets remained indifferent, depressed the markets, calmed the markets, worried the markets, shocked the markets, scared the markets, the markets' nervousness, the markets' mood, the markets' euphoria, the markets' fear, the markets' relief, the markets might loose confidence, the markets are worried, the markets wish, the markets are taken by surprise, nervous session for the markets ...

They are involved in communicative interactions:
convince the markets, give a signal to the markets, the markets demand, make the markets understand, his first interlocutors will be the markets, that's what the markets ask, the markets reply, the markets are telling us, the markets can't give an adequate answer, and the markets said "...", listen to the markets ...

They have senses, in particular sight:
the markets look with apprehension, is seen by the markets, the markets foresee, the markets look attentively, the perception of the markets, right or wrong the markets perceive, the markets like, the markets don't like ...

They do very human things:
the markets wait  (they appear to do a lot of waiting), the markets cheer, the markets hunt, the markets menace, the markets will punish, the markets attack, the markets go on the rollercoaster, the markets bite Italy ...
and as for biting one needs teeth, the markets seem to have many more human body parts:
arms the markets wave
legs the markets stagger
shoulders the markets leave behind their backs
lungs the markets are gaping, the markets exhale with relief
hearts the markets are in fibrillation
they suffer and they keep on suffering, they have serious health problems

There is the markets' revolt and the markets' dictatorship. Still WHO these markets are we don't know, human in every respect, but with no faces.

Berlusconi's speech will be forgotten tomorrow, the global accumulation of patterns humanizing inanimate and abstract things in our language stays and strengthens every day. The more obvious, the more NORMAL it gets, the more problematic. We are to talk to, listen to, respond to, blame ... the markets but we can't. The markets have no name, no picture, no criminal record, no job to loose, shoes to buy, rent to pay, pets to feed, kids to see through school, relatives to bury... The markets are not accountable, people are.

In the meantime "Silvio challenges the markets" and off on holiday he goes (yesterday's was last session for the Italian parliament) ... the markets of course don't sunbathe and don't 'bunga bunga' party, do they?

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