By Gareth Dale
Review article by Nikil Saval
Nikil Saval - Karl Polanyi In Our Times
There are many ways to read The Great Transformation: as a book about the rise of liberalism and the origins of the welfare state, as a discussion of the birth of fascism and why Europe went to war. But Polanyi also had more immediate concerns. His argument was also a rebuke of right-wing arguments, often made by libertarian figures like Hayek and Mises, about the impracticality of left-wing thinkers. While socialists are usually the ones charged with being irresponsible dreamers, Polanyi wanted to show that it was economic liberals who were in fact dedicated to an implausible utopia. An unchecked market was anything but natural. Left to function on its own, it destroys human beings and the planet along with it…
There are now thriving markets for passports and body parts. Cost-benefit analyses determine which departments at a public university get funding and which hospitals, parks, and schools get shuttered. In Polanyi’s time, his main concern focused on how swiftly and dangerously labor, land, and money became “fictitious commodities” and how this despoiled human life and the environment; today, we live in a world in which it seems like almost every social good is capable of being monetized: health, happiness, education, housing, communication, even citizenship have all become commodities sold and purchased on the market.
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