In the world of orthodox or standard economics (economic theory, not the practice of actually trading or doing actual economics) there are fuzzy words. Lots of them. "Economics" and "market" are just two. "Economics" is the name of the discipline, so it is OK if we take it for granted sometimes (most of the time). But once we do, the orthodox bring the word "market" into it, and then "market" is confused with "economics." Thus in normal or orthodox practice the two words may often mean the same thing, as when we see: "the economy," and, "the market."
In the expositions of the economists, then, there is no real difference between the two terms.
As we know, for many years these persons have had the idea that economics (or the market) somehow regulates itself. They have this idea. Economics (or the market) somehow regulates itself. Therefore, it is better that there not be controls (or interference) over (or with) this area of human endeavor — this is accepted and become influential as a widespread tenet. It is there pervasively; it influences society; it is present in how we do social-political theory in general --- not to mention (of course) economics.
It forms a sort of substrate of our consciousness, in fact. This kind of idea is thus a tenet. It is a fundamental concept upon which are arrayed other concepts.
What the idea says is that something operates autonomously—on its own.
But wait a minute! Do not all scientific laws, natural laws, etc. in fact operate autonomously? -on their own without any need for human intent or intervention? Everything in nature operates autonomously. It just does its own thing, it goes by itself. So, the physical world in general operates by itself. Or, it operates without our intervention. Yes, things in operate autonomously, but this is not saying much of anything. Things operate on their own, and the same applies to science. The same notion applies if we were to be scientific, and, in so doing, extract a law, and that would be having a natural law in hand, and extracting out of this autonomous physical world such a law, and it is called a law because the thing being discussed works that way all by itself. It is not because of the law we have extracted or because of the scientists' intervention. Whatever is being learned about is really there. That is the point. It is obvious that the law that has been extracted from the natural world does not create the phenomenon that is the natural phenomenon being considered. It describes how physical reality works; it tells about what is already the case, and it also may tell about what will happen, in the event that we do make some kind of an intervention.
Since everything does, after all, operate autonomously, what is actually new when the economists' make this famous claim that is so influential in society?
The only thing different about saying markets operate autonomously, on their own, is the word: "economics" or "market." Markets are just "the way it is." Like nature, maybe?
If the economist makes a more complete presentation and says, "the market regulates itself and thus we do not need to intervene in order to create the optimal result", that implies that economics is an area where we might sometimes want to intervene, in order to get the optimal result. But we need not, so says the orthodox practice of university economics. We do not need to. That's cuz "the market" (read: nature) automatically will get the thing done, and optimally, too.
There is a problem with this longer statement too. No freaking doubt! This problem is that economics is an intervention, we are just not admitting it.
We said that the only thing new here, in the statement "the market operates by itself", is the word "markets." Nature and science always operate by themselves. Now we have the more detailed statement the economist makes, and here we are saying that when economics intervenes in nature, to get things done, get money made, etc., it is actually not an intervention in the natural course of things. Why? There is no reason. It is that, as before, it is just because that is the natural function of the word "market." And, also as before, what we need to know here is what is meant by "market."
And they don't know. What this means is that economic theory as it is know is just hocus-pocus done with words. As Ms. McCloskey figured out, it's "rhetoric."