Free Ellen Meiksins Woods Article ‘from Opportunity To Imperative, The History Of The Market’ Article Review Example
Introduction. Ellen Meiksins Wood is a Marxist historian and scholar. She was born in New York City in 1942 and raised in United States of America and Europe. Wood did her B.A in the year 1962 in Slavic languages from the University of California, Berkeley. Afterwards, she graduated in political sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. She also did her PhD from the same university in 1970. Wood’s professional career is as daunting as her educational background. She taught political science to students of Glendon College, York University in Toronto, Canada. She was also on the editorial committee of British journal New Left Review between 1984 and 1993. Ellen Wood has written many books and articles, some conjointly with her husband, Neal Wood. Her work has been translated into many languages, namely, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Turkish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. She has also received an Isaac Deutsche Memorial Prize for her book ‘Retreat from Class’ in 1988.
Ellen Woods’s concept of Market. Wood was a Marxist scholar so we can predict where her allegiance lies when it comes to analysis of a capitalist market. One of her renowned article is ‘From Opportunity to Imperative, the History of the Market’. This article, along with most of Wood’s writing, touches on the topic of Capitalism. Capitalism is a system of social-property relations in which survival and social reproduction are dependent on the market and thus, it is driven by the imperatives of competition and a relentless drive to be efficient. G.A Cohen has referred to Capitalism as having ‘gross inequalities’ (London Review of Books. 28th January 2010)
Markets are, generally, institutes where buyers meet sellers and Ellen Woods defines markets to be seen as systems where freedom of choice for the consumers is guaranteed by the regulating authorities. These authorities ensure a rational economic behavior, where demand meets supply and where commodities and services are offered to people to freely choose from. However, in Ellen’s view, capitalist markets are not a means of opportunity or choice, rather they are a form of compulsion. Wood goes on to elaborate this point by referring to the fact that all individuals are required to enter into the market relations in order to gain access to means of life. Survival is the priority of all human beings and thus, there is no other option than to be part of the market system. According to her, the system of exchange of goods is not new to mankind; even in history will people find that individuals engaged in exchange activities, by the method of the barter system. Nevertheless, the market has surely matured in its practices and commerce has, eventually, resuscitated with the growth of cities and freedom of merchants to trade. The old cultural pressures and political dependencies have been finished and abolished completely, as Wood says;
“..To free itself once and for all from the fretters of old cultural constraints and political parasitisms.” (Wood; pg 2)
Since Miss Wood was a scholar, she attempts to take her beliefs on the capitalist market to a future reckoning. She is of the view that the transition to Capitalism, whether due to urbanization or growing and improving of trade or by demographical growth, is a response to the universal and trans-historical laws of the market, the laws of supply and demand. The emergence of modern capitalism is the natural outcome of these immutable laws and although these laws can be blocked, there is a great cost to it.
Through this hypothesis, she believes that there is risk involved in attempting to violate laws of nature and they cannot be completely thwarted or defeated but they can be managed or supervised. Wood’s another perception regarding market is that the old commercial practices of profit taking, when the individual used to buy a commodity of a lower price and then sell it for a higher one, has still not changed. The profit maximization motive is, even to this day, present and a globally acceptable fact when it comes to trade. Furthermore, Wood believes the logic of the market never evolved or changed. Individuals, since history, have been aiming to maximize their utility by selling goods or achieving profit wherever and whenever possible. The basic logic of people in markets have remained the same; they have taken opportunities whenever possible, they have been helpful and productive towards economic growth, there has been improvements in productive forces and they are bound to produce industrial capitalism if left to operate freely to its natural logic.
Woods continues on her criticism and considers Capitalism as a system of exploitation; that the exploiters depend on market to gain access to labor power and to realize profits. Only the capitalist approach depends on market competition and, therefore, on the systematic improvement of labor productivity. Only capitalism depends on constantly moving the forces of production. She also thinks that market capitalism operates in such a way so as to force people to enter the market and producers to produce efficiently as well. Hence Wood’s proposal that markets in capitalism are more of a necessity or ‘imperative’ than a means of opportunity.
The notion of Market Dependence and its significance. Ellen Meiksins Woods’s theory is basically based on market dependence rather than market enablement. Market enablement means to make the people involved in the market by giving means, power or authority. The people in such a market are free to pursue their own interests, achieve success by hard work or skill and supply needs and wants in the most efficient way possible. On the other hand, Capitalism is the opposite of enablement in real. Market dependence revolves around the initial concept of Woods that individuals and people are ‘forced’ to respond to the capitalist market for conditions of survival and self-reproduction which goes for both consumers and producers. The provision of goods and services, according to her, depends largely on imperatives, like competition, accumulation, profit maximization and increasing labor productivity. For this reason, it is clear that the objective of capitalism is not the provision of goods and services, it is the expansion and spreading of the Capital itself.
Conclusion. Ellen Woods is a Marxist and her approach is vividly obvious. She aims to establish a concept that people are controlled by Capitalism and have no right or say in the operations of a Capitalist market. In real, although the market is evidently a means of self-reproduction and survival, the belief that people have no right or say in the market is untrue. People affect the operations of a market by means of supply and demand, by labor productivity and accumulation. They are the ones who give competition and efficiency to the market in the first place. Nevertheless, the contribution of Woods is priceless to history.
G.A Cohen. ‘Happy Campers’ Book Review of Why Not Socialism? London Review of Books. 32 (2). 28th January 2010. 23rd January 2015