Classical economy sees the market as the place where demand meets supply and prices are born.

‘Relative’ economics, which hasn’t been written yet, sees the market as the place where people meet to offer their wares and to fulfill their needs. In order to meet this goal, people negotiate prices and adapt their behavior/attitude.

Classical economics sees the market as being either free or ‘non market’ – a.k.a. ” “planned” economy“: the one which “is heavily regulated or controlled by the government, most notably in socialist or communist countries.
As an aside, while I fully agree with the notion that communist countries – ‘popular democracies’, as their rulers used to describe them, had organized their economies around strictly centralized decision mechanisms, I cannot but wonder how would a classical economist describe Hitler’s economy? Or ‘crony capitalism’?

‘Relative’ economics, which – I repeat, hasn’t been written yet, sees the market as being either ‘free’, ‘un-free’ – a.k.a. ‘captured’ or ‘cornered’, or ‘obsessed’.
Of course, there never was such a thing as a completely free market, only functionally free ones. And I’m sure most of you fully understand what I mean.
Also, it is clear what ‘un-free’ means. Any situation where a small number of people call all the shots for an entire market. It doesn’t matter a bit whether those few people are directly involved in the market – over which they ‘enjoy’ monopolistic power, or they are involved with – read ‘control the’, government. The determining factor here is the scarcity of decision makers and the chock-hold they have over the entire decision making process.
The ‘obsessed’ market is the most interesting of all. For me, at least.

Remember “Tulip Mania”?

As with many interesting stories, there are at least two sides attached to this one also.
One version describes the whole thing as a generalized folly which had ended only after the government stepped in while the other paints a considerably duller picture.
Only nobody denies the fact.

That for whatever reasons, tulip bulbs had been – admittedly for a relatively short while, on a par with houses. Value-wise.

Did it make any sense? Then?
For those involved, yes! Otherwise…
Could they afford it? Had they been affected when the bubble burst?
That depends on whom you ask… and whom you believe…

Does it make any sense now? Can we make anything out of it?

We can certainly explain what had happened.
Holland’s was the most affluent economy of the continent and the wealth was sort of spread around.
A lot of money was ‘sloshing’, a lot of people were looking for a way to ‘show of’ and tulips were the ‘thing of the day’.
Does it make any sense now? Retrospectively, no. Not for me, anyway.
Do we have an explanation for what had happened? You’ve just read a very condensed one. If you need a more elaborate version, try Veblen’s ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class‘.

Anyway, that’s the perfect example of an ‘obsessed’ market.
Where the agents are free to do what they please but are obsessed enough to act in sync. As opposed to ‘in concert’.

‘Obsessed’ means that all present look in the same direction and react in the same way.
Which might be a good thing – when a group tries to escape a fire.
Or a bad one, when the same group is trying to gather food from a forest. If all of them are looking, exclusively, for a single type of mushroom, many other sources of food are neglected.

In a really – as in ‘functional’, free market, people display a variety of behaviors.
Some suppliers are greedier than others, some are diligent, some are sloppy and others are dedicated craftsmen.
Some buyers are more ‘relaxed’, others ‘stingier’. Some know their way around the market, others are ignorant.
On the whole, a dynamic equilibrium is constantly negotiated among all these ‘free’ agents. Simply because there is a variety of opinion.
When the market is ‘un-free’, the whole notion of negotiation and equilibrium disappears. The parameters are set by the ‘rulers’. And things go on only as long as the ‘rulers’ manage to maintain a modicum of normality.
When the market is ‘obsessed’, things become really interesting. The agents maintain their apparent liberty – at least for a while. Only they don’t actually use it. All of them act as if pre-programmed.

And somebody sooner or later notices what’s going on. And turns the whole thing to fit their own goal. Which is, almost always, not so different from the ‘general’ one.

Tulip Mania was relatively benign.
Nothing really bad had happened.

We’ve somehow managed to weather the recent financial melt down.
Which had been the consequence with our obsession with money as the ultimate goal.
Which obsession continues unabated.