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So markets work, really?
Having discussed the author's some of the very special choices of key terms,
let's now turn to the use of tense in the article. Knowing that the present simple tense
unsurprisingly dominates the entire text (to help illustrate issues that are current,
are facts, and are still true etc.), it would be remarkably interesting to note how
the Buttonwood article got started with the statement "MARKETS work" (when we now know
that the writer probably does not believe in it). In fact, the simple present tense
here might have work the unusual way. But could there be such a way?
Maybe. The article here has probably twisted the present simple to refer to
a very limited scenario, and no longer an always-true event or permanent state.
Rather than presenting it as a general fact or truth (i.e. the market concept always works),
the simple tense now becomes a mark for an exception (i.e. You think markets work? I'll
show you when it doesn't...). OK, I know I might have gone too far on this but let us
presume we could exemplify such an idea with the following example:
E.g. We all know the sun rises from the east – at least for all planets in the Solar system, but not Venus.
So, on Venus, we would say, the sun rises from the west – which is an exception .
In other words, the statement, "MARKET works", now becomes some kind of a sarcastic remark.
Photo © P.I.E. Image Compendium
The present simple in the opening statement (i.e. in "MARKETS work") may therefore
be understood as a marked use [4a] of the present simple
to signify exception, and not
a case in general. The proof of this can be found just two lines down the text when
the author wrote, "Friedrich Hayek argued that markets were..."
Here the simple past tense is used instead of the present. If the author had believed
in the validity of the free market concept, he, as Green (2009, p. 76) suggests, would
have used the present simple to make the two points relevant in the present time. The
author also continued by relating Hayek's argument on free markets to
"the wisdom of crowds, if you like" – hence further looking down on the
point. While some might say that the author was just trying to be cynical by
making obvious errors (Abdollahzadeh, in press), I would say that he could simply
have used the wrong tense right from the beginning.
Regardless of whether the author was trying to be cynical or not, he did made use
of the present simple to put forward a few rather convincing "facts" for the readers.
For instance, he explained as an argument why "financial assets appeal" by contrasting
the demand for financial assets (which "generally increases with the asset prices")
with the demand for TV sets (which "falls when the price of a television set goes up")
– all with the present simple. He also spelled out the contrasting concepts
as to how "when the prices of goods are rising, manufacturers make more" and how
"the creation of new shares dilutes the wealth of existing investors" –
all in the present again. This time, the author was clearly neither sarcastic
nor cynical. But what the author clearly did wrong was to confuse the underlying factors
and compare what should not be logically compared – the two kinds of demand.
The demand for TV set depends on its selling price whereas the demand for financial assets
depend on the assets' expected return, risk and liquidity, and not price .
The author obviously compared apples to oranges when he should have looked further
into the genes (of the two fruits) in order to make the comparison scientific,
meaningful and reasonable. While the author almost seemed to have made great use of
the intrinsic properties of the simple tense to bring about "factual examples" as
arguments, he actually abused the factual power of the present simple by conveying
"facts" that are otherwise not exactly true. To this end, not only the choice of the
tense is problematic but the basic logic of the text is also twisted and flawed as well.
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Note 4: Venus rotates retrograde (from east to west) and the sun thus appears
on Venus to rise from the west and sets in the east, see http://www.oglethorpe.edu/faculty/~m_rulison/Astronomy/Chap%2009/chapter_9_lecture_notes.htm
Note 4a: If a word or a phrase is used in a special way to denote a meaning other than the usual one, it is called the "marked use" of it.
Note 5: Higher asset prices generally mean lower yield, hence diminishes demand.