Main menu:

History of RPE Thought

Posts by Tag

RSS New from the CCPA

  • Mobility pricing must be fair and equitable for all April 12, 2018
    As Metro Vancouver’s population has grown, so have its traffic congestion problems. Whether it’s a long wait to cross a bridge or get on a bus, everyone can relate to the additional time and stress caused by a transportation system under strain. Mobility pricing is seen as a solution to Metro Vancouver’s transportation challenges with […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Budget 2018: The Most Disappointing Budget Ever March 14, 2018
    Premier Pallister’s Trump-esque statement that budget 2018 was going to be the “best budget ever” has fallen a bit flat. Instead of a bold plan to deal with climate change, poverty and our crumbling infrastructure, we are presented with two alarmist scenarios to justify further tax cuts and a lack of decisive action: the recent […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • 2018 Federal Budget Analysis February 14, 2018
    Watch this space for response and analysis of the federal budget from CCPA staff and our Alternative Federal Budget partners. More information will be added as it is available. Commentary and Analysis Some baby steps for dad and big steps forward for women, by Kate McInturff (CCPA) An ambition constrained budget, by David Macdonald (CCPA) Five things […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • CED in Manitoba - The Video January 29, 2018
    Community Economic Development in Manitoba - nudging capitalism out of the way?
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • With regional management BC’s iconic forest industry can benefit British Columbians rather than multinational corporations January 17, 2018
    Forests are one of the iconic symbols of British Columbia, and successive governments and companies operating here have largely focussed on the cheap, commodity lumber business that benefits industry. Former provincial forestry minister Bob Williams, who has been involved with the industry for five decades, proposes regional management of this valuable natural resource to benefit […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Progressive Bloggers

Meta

Recent Blog Posts

Posts by Author

Recent Blog Comments

The Progressive Economics Forum

The Contemporary Relevance of Karl Polanyi

The political economist Karl Polanyi, author of the 1944 volume The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, is arguably better known today than during his lifetime. The time has come for a major biography of Polanyi, Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left by Gareth Dale. It is thoroughly excellent and provides the occasion to ponder the relevance of Polanyi today.

His book was a response to more than a century of globalization that fell apart in the 1920’s and 30’s, culminating in the Great Depression, Hitler’s fascism and World War II – all of which came to be seen, in the boom times of the 50s and 60s, as  merely bad old history. Meanwhile in recent times the renewed wave of globalization following that War went seriously awry in the financial crisis of 2007-8 and the emergence (again) of the fascistic alt.right, with the unimaginable triumph of Trump in America, the very centre of global capitalism. Economics had wandered off to the right and was less than useless on such matters. Politics had to be brought into that universe and Polanyi’s progressive economics a.k.a. political economy was suddenly relevant again, there for the taking.

By 2001 when a new paperback edition of The Great Transformation was published there was sufficient unease about the drift of things global that the progressive Nobel prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz was asked to write a new Foreword, and he began, in true Polanyi style, by citing the reaction, the progressive countermovement, evident in the public marches against international financial institutions in Seattle in 1999.

Now, in 2018, things have degenerated sufficiently that it makes sense to go back and see what Polanyi saw as the explanation for fascism and how that might cast light on today’s darkness. Ironically, Hungary, from whence Polanyi came, has, as I write, re-elected to a third consecutive term, a right populist alt.right government with a stunning two-thirds majority.

For Polanyi, famously, there was a double movement in the annals of political economy: the driving force of the market creating losers as well as winners, as movement, the responding force of democracy as counter-movement. If the outcome became one of stalemate, there would be crises without a government able to resolve them, a situation much worsened historically by the rules imposed by the international gold standard.  The deadlock created an opening for extremism, of the revolutionary left as in the Soviet Union as reaction to World War I, of fascism as in Italy and Germany, with the latter as reaction to the former. Each in its own way meant the end of democracy. Out of all this came the barbarism of World War II.

Today, the gold standard has been replaced by the iron laws of globalization. The extreme neoliberalism of the American government precluded offering protection, or assistance, to the losers, notably in the American rust belt who became the core support for Trump.  We are now observing a threat to the American way of conducting politics, of American democracy, analogous to that of the 1930s. The creative response then was the New Deal, its legacy now exhausted. Today it is Trumpism, still in its early days, the fullness of which is uncertain, as is the fate of America and thereby of the rest of us.  At the same time, similar forces led to Brexit, the consequences of which, for Europe and, again, the rest of us, remain to be seen. Polanyi sees unresolved national issues – open sores, bleeding wounds, like anti-semitism and the humiliation of the settlement of World War I in Germany – as critically important to the mobilization of the masses to fascism. For Trumpism, racism, white nationalism, with deep roots in America,  is manifestly the rallying cry.  Stay tuned in, CNN or Fox, watch one, conjure up the other, think like Polanyi.

Enjoy and share:

Comments

Comment from Larry Kazdan
Time: April 13, 2018, 8:40 pm

Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi

https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/

“The central theme of the book is a historical description of the emergence of the market economy as a competitor to the traditional economy. The market economy won this battle, and ideologies supporting the market economy won the corresponding battle in the marketplace of ideas. Today, the victory of the market economy is so complete that it has become difficult for us to imagine societies where the market does not play a central role. Polanyi argues that contrary to popular belief, markets have been of marginal importance in traditional societies throughout history. The market economy emerged after a prolonged battle against these traditions. As Polanyi clarifies, this is not a good development. The commodification of human beings and land required by the dominance of the market has done tremendous damage to society and environment.”

Write a comment





Related articles