Marknadspriset som värdemätare

Igår hade Sydsvenskan en artikel om problemen för combitransporterna, alltså godstransporter som involverar fler än ett trafikslag. I det här fallet gäller det lastbil/tåg, där godscontainrar färdas långväga på tåg för att därefter lastas över på lastbil. Den dåliga lönsamheten har nu gjort att CargoNet lägger ner verksamheten.

Kombitrafik är en väldigt bra idé. Jag har kört en del kombigods tidigare, framförallt åt bryggerier och grossister som säljer till Systembolaget. Med tanke på den vikt och de stora volymer det handlade om så skulle det ha känts väldigt korkat om godset hade åkt långväga på bil till vår terminal.

Men det är varken personliga erfarenheter eller det fiffiga med kombitransporter som är ämnet för detta blogginlägg. Snarare är det att skälen till nedläggningen tydliggör en intressant frågeställning angående marknadspriser.

Den avgörande orsaken är att banavgifterna för tågtrafiken har höjts, vilket gör att priset måste höjas, och därmed att rena lastbilstransporter blir ett billigare alternativ. Peter Wadman, vd för Tågoperatörerna, säger:

– Det här visar hur politiska beslut lätt kan förskjuta konkurrenssituationen.

När jag läste detta slog det mig det slog mig att transportbranschen tydligare än andra uppvisar förhållandet mellan politik och marknad, och därför kan användas som exempel på att ”marknadspriset” aldrig är en ren produkt av marknadskrafter och konkurrens, och följaktligen att det inte bör ges någon aura av auktoritet som objektiv mätare av värde eller effektivitet. Transportbranschen, framförallt genom att konkurrens sker mellan olika trafikslag, är ett tydligt exempel, eftersom det är uppenbart att de statliga investeringarna i infrastruktur (och sätten som staten försöker få in medel för dessa) är helt och hållet avgörande för vilka priser som sedan sätts på marknaden för transporter. Alltså kan marknadens utslag (priser) inte kan tillskrivas det mått av auktoritet som det har fått inom vissa ideologier och ekonomiska teorier.

Det slog mig helt enkelt, jag erkänner att det är långsökt, att detta kunde vara ett sätt att tydliggöra Ernest Gellners långt mer generella och filosofiska resonemang kring de gamla idéerna om ”rättvisa priser” och uppkomsten av den moderna idén om marknadspriset:

The agrarian world is oriented towards stability and hierarchy. Its ideological apparatus endeavours to confer stability on its institutions. All this is reflected in its attitude to economic activity. Just as, for instance, Aristotelian physics envisage a rightful place for objects, towards which they tend to move, so the characteristic economic theory of the age […] was naturally attracted to the notion of a ”just price”. In a later age, this idea was much decried. […]

Those deeply imbued with the merits of a free market mechanism tend to scorn what seems to them the spurious moralism of the just price and just wage concept. R. H. Tawney, interestingly enough, shared this vision sufficiently to call Karl Marx the last of the scholastics. […] The denigration of the ”fair price” concept is part and parcel of the general rejection of metaphysics and superstition by the Enlightened mind. The whole idea, it is suggested, had clearly been based on the infantile expectation that God, or Nature, or some other Authority, sends objects into the world with labels attached, specifying their price. […]

But we have learnt to separate distinct questions, and to see things as they are. We separate that which is in them and that which is our construct or projection, and we recognize that things do not have any such value place in the scheme of things, there being no such scheme. […] So prices, and rewards generally, are not prescribed. They reflect the satisfaction things and services give, and their scarcity, and their negotiable flexibility is precisely what encourages innovation, progress, growth. […]

The ”market” theory of validating value is the crucial point at which the economic and cognitive transformations of mankind meet. The new economy is to be justified in terms of notions which assume a homogeneous atomized world. Value or merit attach to things only as a function of the satisfaction they give. […] Thus only does value enter the world.

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is somewhat more complex. […] The Enlightened mind was not quite as enlightened as it complacently supposed: it committed and exemplified the very error which it castigated. Certainly, the notion of a just price, inscribed into the nature of things, is a superstition. There is indeed no nature of things, and it is not given to assigning value-labels. But, alas, there is no market price either. The apotheosis of the market price, its endowment with an aura of independence, authority and legitimacy, is simply a more subtle repeat performance of the very same old superstition. Enlighteners, enlighten yourselves. The more-enlightened-than-thou spirit in which you preach your vision is a little comic, for thou art a damned sight less enlightened than thou confidently supposest.

The market can only determine the price within a given institutional coercive context. That context is not given either, any more than a ”just price” could be given. Inevitably, it is historically specific. Such contexts vary a great deal, and are the result of imposition or of a particular historical compromise. The illusion of a self-maintaining market as an objective oracle arose because the particular institutional and cultural context into which it first emerged seemed fairly self-evident to those who lived within it. […] Early industrialism and an early extended market economy were relatively modest in their infrastructural and technological requirements compared with developed industrialism. […] They could consequently seem to be parts of a reasonably natural, and not too idiosyncratic, order of things. A natural illusion perhaps in its context, but an illusion nonetheless. […]

In any one given political context, the market will give a unique verdict. If the legitimate political context can also be uniquely defined, the oracular market verdict is also unique. It stands at the end of a chain of reasoning, untarnished by arbitrariness at any point, so it can be revered.

One could specify the ”correct” political background by saying that the political interference should be minimal; this was he famous theory of the minimal, ”nightwatchman” state. The theory has actually been revived in our time, when in fact the tremendous size of the required infrastructure renders it absurd. The theory had its plausibility then, because the state really could be rather small. The society in which a generalized market order merged was so well equipped with the kind of culture and institutional framework required for the expanding market that initially the state was not required to help out a great deal. […]

Now all that has changed. Highly developed productive technology requires an enormous, centrally maintained infrastructure. Its cost, in developed societies, has come to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of half the national income. Without such an infrastructure, both the production and the consumption of a modern industrial machine would seize up. A modern motor car industry could not dispose of its products were it not for the fact that the political agencies of society ensure the existence of an enormously elaborate and expensive system of roads.

Once the political framework of the market is so conspicuous and large, and is seen to have so many different possible forms, it can no longer be dissimulated as a kind of neutral or innocuous minimum. It can no longer be presented as a mere necessary precondition, one which merely enables that impartial oracle to function, without interfering with or prejudging its verdicts. Such an illusion is no longer possible.

Once this is plain, and it ought now to be plain, the pronouncements of the oracle lose whatever aura they may once have possessed. They cannot be presented as coming objectively from outside the system, without prejudice, reflecting nothing but the tastes and preferences of men, and the manner in which, given the distribution of resources, they can best be satisfied. Once the enormous weight of the political input into the alleged verdict is seen, we are no longer free to use the market as our economic and neutral arbiter. We make the political order. Hence we are responsible for its verdicts. The market verdicts are but its echo.

All this is not in conflict with the claim that, within a politically chosen framework and set of principles of distribution, all further details are best left to ”the market”.

Gellner, Ernest (1989), Plough, Sword and Book. The Structure of Human History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), s. 182-89.

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