Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market
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Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation is generally acclaimed as being among the most influential works of economic history in the twentieth century, and remains as vital in the current historical conjuncture as it was in his own. In its critique of nineteenth-century "market fundamentalism" it reads as a warning to our own neoliberal age, and is widely touted as a prophetic guidebook for those who aspire to understand the causes and dynamics of global economic turbulence at the end of the 2000s.
Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is the first comprehensive introduction to Polanyi's ideas and legacy. It assesses not only the texts for which he is famous – prepared during his spells in American academia – but also his journalistic articles written in his first exile in Vienna, and lectures and pamphlets from his second exile, in Britain. It provides a detailed critical analysis of The Great Transformation, but also surveys Polanyi’s seminal writings in economic anthropology, the economic history of ancient and archaic societies, and political and economic theory. Its primary source base includes interviews with Polanyi's daughter, Kari Polanyi-Levitt, as well as the entire compass of his own published and unpublished writings in English and German.
This engaging and accessible introduction to Polanyi's thinking will appeal to students and scholars across the social sciences, providing a refreshing perspective on the roots of our current economic crisis.
‘humanistic and common sense argument’ but encases it within a Tönniesian framework that alludes to the ‘artificial’ status of legal contracts and the unnatural, ‘utopian’ character of the self-regulating market system.13 With this, the thrust of the ‘fictitious commodity’ concept shifts from the moral plane to the historical. Because human beings and nature are not produced for sale, they are not commodities, but this delusion provided the foundation of liberal society, with fateful
‘To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment’, Polanyi blazes, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity ‘labour power’ cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. … Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social
to long-term mass unemployment, and geopolitically, as governments sought to deflect social discontent through beating the imperialist drum – eroded the cooperative inclinations of participating states and ultimately ‘broke the system’.71 Already in the late nineteenth century these tendencies were apparent. ‘Imperialism and preparation for autarchy’, Polanyi ventures, ‘were the bent of Powers which found themselves more and more dependent upon an increasingly unreliable system of world
Polanyi, by contrast, that element is irrational but also innate: economic liberalism is necessarily utopian, for it brings into being an artificial institutional assemblage against which society, understandably and rationally, reacts. The ‘disruptive strains’ that emerged around the time of his birth and which then led to the dismantling of liberal institutions in those inter-war decades in which the ideas of TGT were germinating were the dragon’s teeth sown, inevitably and as a product of its
the intrusion of utility-maximizing economic man into the other social (and, with adaptations, ethological) sciences, together with the assumption that the appropriate framework for analysing behaviour exists universally as a matrix formed by scarcity, competition and rational self-interest. In subsequent decades the limits of economics expanded throughout human society and psychology and – breaking beyond even Robbins’ disciplinary definition – into the biosphere beyond. For Gary Becker,