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A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services (including labor) in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established.
For a market to be competitive, there must be more than a single buyer or seller. It has been suggested that two people may trade, but it takes at least three persons to have a market, so that there is competition in at least one of its two sides. However, competitive markets, as understood in formal economic theory, rely on much larger numbers of both buyers and sellers. A market with single seller and multiple buyers is a monopoly. A market with a single buyer and multiple sellers is a monopsony. These are the extremes of imperfect competition.
Markets vary in form, scale (volume and geographic reach), location, and types of participants, as well as the types of goods and services traded. Examples include:
In mainstream economics, the concept of a market is any structure that allows buyers and sellers to exchange any type of goods, services and information. The exchange of goods or services for money is a transaction. Market participants consist of all the buyers and sellers of a good who influence its price. This influence is a major study of economics and has given rise to several theories and models concerning the basic market forces of supply and demand. There are two roles in markets, buyers and sellers. The market facilitates trade and enables the distribution and allocation of resources in a society. Markets allow any tradable item to be evaluated and priced. A market emerges more or less spontaneously or may be constructed deliberately by human interaction in order to enable the exchange of rights (cf. ownership) of services and goods.
Although many markets exist in the traditional sense – such as a marketplace – there are various other types of markets and various organizational structures to assist their functions. The nature of business transactions could define markets.
Financial markets facilitate the exchange of liquid assets. Most investors prefer investing in two markets, the stock markets and the bond markets. NYSE, AMEX, and the NASDAQ are the most common stock markets in the US. Futures markets, where contracts are exchanged regarding the future delivery of goods are often an outgrowth of general commodity markets.
Currency markets are used to trade one currency for another, and are often used for speculation on currency exchange rates.
The money market is the name for the global market for lending and borrowing.
Prediction markets are a type of speculative market in which the goods exchanged are futures on the occurrence of certain events. They apply the market dynamics to facilitate information aggregation.
A market can be organized as an auction, as a private electronic market, as a commodity wholesale market, as a shopping center, as a complex institution such as a stock market, and as an informal discussion between two individuals.
Markets of varying types can spontaneously arise whenever a party has interest in a good or service that some other party can provide. Hence there can be a market for cigarettes in correctional facilities, another for chewing gum in a playground, and yet another for contracts for the future delivery of a commodity. There can be black markets, where a good is exchanged illegally and virtual markets, such as eBay, in which buyers and sellers do not physically interact during negotiation. There can also be markets for goods under a command economy despite pressure to repress them.
In economics, a market that runs under laissez-faire policies is a free market. It is "free" in the sense that the government makes no attempt to intervene through taxes, subsidies, minimum wages, price ceilings, etc. Market prices may be distorted by a seller or sellers with monopoly power, or a buyer with monopsony power. Such price distortions can have an adverse effect on market participant's welfare and reduce the efficiency of market outcomes. Also, the relative level of organization and negotiating power of buyers and sellers markedly affects the functioning of the market. Markets where price negotiations meet equilibrium though still do not arrive at desired outcomes for both sides are said to experience market failure.
Markets are a system, and systems have structure. The structure of a well-functioning market is defined by the theory of perfect competition. Well-functioning markets of the real world are never perfect, but basic structural characteristics can be approximated for real world markets, for example:
There exists a popular thought that free markets would have a structure of a perfect competition. The logic behind the thought is that market failures are thought to be caused by other exogenic systems, and after removing those exogenic systems ("freeing" the markets) the free markets could run without market failures.
As an argument against such a logic there is a view that suggests that the source of market failures is inside the market system, so the removal of other interfering systems would not result in markets with a structure of perfect competition: capitalists don't want to enhance the structure of markets, just like a coach of a football team would influence the referees or would break the rules if he could while he is pursuing his target of winning the game. The capitalists are not enhancing the balance of their team versus the team of consumer-workers, so the market system needs a "referee" from outside that balances the game. The role of a "referee" of the market system is usually given to a democratic government.
Disciplines such as sociology, economic history, economic geography and marketing developed novel understandings of markets  studying actual existing markets made up of persons interacting in diverse ways in contrast to an abstract and all-encompassing concepts of “the market”. Markets are generally used in two ways:
A widespread trend in economic history and sociology is skeptical of the idea that it is possible to develop a theory to capture an essence or unifying thread to markets. For economic geographers, reference to regional, local, or commodity specific markets can serve to undermine assumptions of global integration, and highlight geographic variations in the structures, institutions, histories, path dependencies, forms of interaction and modes of self-understanding of agents in different spheres of market exchange. Reference to actual markets can show capitalism not as a totalizing force or completely encompassing mode of economic activity, but rather as "a set of economic practices scattered over a landscape, rather than a systemic concentration of power".
C. B. Macpherson identifies an underlying model of the market underlying Anglo-American liberal-democratic political economy and philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Persons are cast as self-interested individuals, who enter into contractual relations with other such individuals, concerning the exchange of goods or personal capacities cast as commodities, with the motive of maximizing pecuniary interest. The state and its governance systems are cast as outside of this framework. This model came to dominant economic thinking in the later nineteenth century, as economists such as Ricardo, Mill, Jevons, Walras and later neo-classical economics shifted from reference to geographically located marketplaces to an abstract "market". This tradition is continued in contemporary neoliberalism, where the market is held up as optimal for wealth creation and human freedom, and the states’ role imagined as minimal, reduced to that of upholding and keeping stable property rights, contract, and money supply. This allowed for boilerplate economic and institutional restructuring under structural adjustment and post-Communist reconstruction.
Similar formalism occurs in a wide variety of social democratic and Marxist discourses that situate political action as antagonistic to the market. In particular, commodification theorists such as Georg Lukács insist that market relations necessarily lead to undue exploitation of labour and so need to be opposed in toto. Pierre Bourdieu has suggested the market model is becoming self-realizing, in virtue of its wide acceptance in national and international institutions through the 1990s. The formalist conception faces a number of insuperable difficulties, concerning the putatively global scope of the market to cover the entire Earth, in terms of penetration of particular economies, and in terms of whether particular claims about the subjects (individuals with pecuniary interest), objects (commodities), and modes of exchange (transactions) apply to any actually existing markets.
A central theme of empirical analyses is the variation and proliferation of types of markets since the rise of capitalism and global scale economies. The Regulation school stresses the ways in which developed capitalist countries have implemented varying degrees and types of environmental, economic, and social regulation, taxation and public spending, fiscal policy and government provisioning of goods, all of which have transformed markets in uneven and geographical varied ways and created a variety of mixed economies. Drawing on concepts of institutional variance and path dependency, varieties of capitalism theorists (such as Hall and Soskice) identify two dominant modes of economic ordering in the developed capitalist countries, "coordinated market economies" such as Germany and Japan, and an Anglo-American "liberal market economies". However, such approaches imply that the Anglo-American liberal market economies, in fact, operate in a matter close to the abstract notion of "the market". While Anglo-American countries have seen increasing introduction of neo-liberal forms of economic ordering, this has not led to simple convergence, but rather a variety of hybrid institutional orderings. Rather, a variety of new markets have emerged, such as for carbon trading or rights to pollute. In some cases, such as emerging markets for water, different forms of privatization of different aspects of previously state run infrastructure have created hybrid private-public formations and graded degrees of commodification, commercialization, and privatization.
Problematic for market formalism is the relationship between formal capitalist economic processes and a variety of alternative forms, ranging from semi-feudal and peasant economies widely operative in many developing economies, to informal markets, barter systems, worker cooperatives, or illegal trades that occur in most developed countries. Practices of incorporation of non-Western peoples into global markets in the nineteenth and twentieth century did not merely result in the quashing of former social economic institutions. Rather, various modes of articulation arose between transformed and hybridized local traditions and social practices and the emergence world economy. So called capitalist markets, in fact, include and depend on a wide range of geographically situated economic practices that do not follow the market model. Economies are thus hybrids of market and non-market elements.
Helpful here is J. K. Gibson-Graham’s complex topology of the diversity of contemporary market economies describing different types of transactions, labour, and economic agents. Transactions can occur in underground markets (such as for marijuana) or be artificially protected (such as for patents). They can cover the sale of public goods under privatization schemes to co-operative exchanges and occur under varying degrees of monopoly power and state regulation. Likewise, there are a wide variety of economic agents, which engage in different types of transactions on different terms: One cannot assume the practices of a religious kindergarten, multinational corporation, state enterprise, or community-based cooperative can be subsumed under the same logic of calculability (pp. 53–78). This emphasis on proliferation can also be contrasted with continuing scholarly attempts to show underlying cohesive and structural similarities to different markets.
A prominent entry-point for challenging the market model's applicability concerns exchange transactions and the homo economicus assumption of self-interest maximization. As of 2012[update] a number of streams of economic sociological analysis of markets focus on the role of the social in transactions, and on the ways transactions involve social networks and relations of trust, cooperation and other bonds. Economic geographers in turn draw attention to the ways in exchange transactions occur against the backdrop of institutional, social and geographic processes, including class relations, uneven development, and historically contingent path-dependencies. Michel Callon's concept of framing provides a useful schema: each economic act or transaction occurs against, incorporates and also re-performs a geographically and cultural specific complex of social histories, institutional arrangements, rules and connections. These network relations are simultaneously bracketed, so that persons and transactions may be disentangled from thick social bonds. The character of calculability is imposed upon agents as they come to work in markets and are "formatted" as calculative agencies. Market exchanges contain a history of struggle and contestation that produced actors predisposed to exchange under c[clarification needed]
An emerging theme worthy of further study is the interrelationship, interpenetrability and variations of concepts of persons, commodities, and modes of exchange under particular market formations. This is most pronounced in recent movement towards post-structuralist theorizing that draws on Foucault and Actor Network Theory and stress relational aspects of personhood, and dependence and integration into networks and practical systems. Commodity network approaches further both deconstruct and show alternatives to the market models concept of commodities. Here, both researchers and market actors are understood as reframing commodities in terms of processes and social and ecological relationships. Rather than a mere objectification of things traded, the complex network relationships of exchange in different markets calls on agents to alternatively deconstruct or “get with” the fetish of commodities. Gibson-Graham thus read a variety of alternative markets, for fair trade and organic foods, or those using Local Exchange Trading Systems as not only contributing to proliferation, but also forging new modes of ethical exchange and economic subjectivities.
In social systems theory (cf. Niklas Luhmann), markets are also conceptialized as inner environments of the economy. As horizon of all potential investment decisions the market represents the environment of the actually realized investment decisions. Such inner environments, however, can also be observed in further function systems of society like in political, scientific, religious or mass media systems.
Market size can be given in terms of the number of buyers and sellers in a particular market or in terms of the total exchange of money in the market, generally annually (per year). When given in terms of money, market size is often termed market value, but in a sense distinct from market value of individual products. For one and the same goods, there may be different (and generally increasing) market values at the production level, the wholesale level and the retail level. For example, the value of the global illicit drug market for the year 2003 was estimated by the United Nations to be US$13 billion at the production level, $94 billion at the wholesale level (taking seizures into account), and US$322 billion at the retail level (based on retail prices and taking seizures and other losses into account).
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