The latest London Review of Books has a review of a new book-length essay about British modern history. Overall it’s dense and audience specific and not really worth reading, but it does make a fantastic distinction that should be remembered:
Marketisation – the introduction of ‘market mechanisms and market norms into activities hitherto run on non-market lines’ – is, he thinks, more insidious than privatisation: it’s ‘a coherent programme aimed at radical social transformation’. Once marketisation is underway, most human activity – manufacture, agriculture, energy; statecraft, education, health and law; publishing, curating, leisure and affective life itself – is redefined, its self-descriptions colonised and its intrinsic values overwhelmed. There is now only one way to speak, and one set of standards – choice, freedom, the individual – which have little to do with ‘duty’ or any of Marquand’s sunken treasure. In due course the public realm gives way entirely to a ‘market realm’ and eventually to a ‘market society’.
This is opposed to privatization, which is the institutional transfer of ownership from public to private stakeholders. An example would be if, tomorrow, Congress and the President transferred all publicly run schools in the country to private control. Marketization (as defined above) on the other hand, is a much more subtle, but much more powerful phenomenon. While privatization refers to a specific event that can be tangibly measured and evaluated and is not necessarily indicative of widespread transformation, marketization deeply effects decision-making at every level of society. It is the incorporation of certain values into one’s thought process, often without the person’s knowledge or conscious assent. It’s not a description of any one specific action, but a systemic change that effects everything in the future. Above it’s described as an insidious cultural development that has poisoned all levels of British life. Who knows if this is really true, but it’s a sobering thought. Economic logic at its worst is a simplified kind of Social Darwinism – the idea that success is earned with inherent or developed scientific superiority, that, according to evolutionary logic, I’m meant to survive and you’re not so that’s justification enough. It would be a shame if that calculus were brought to bear on all aspects of life.