On an attempted resuscitation of Karl Polanyi

by Walter Olson on September 15, 2013

Sociological historian Karl Polanyi, who argued in The Great Transformation that the market economy was a novel and alien mode of human interaction imposed by strong central government and due for obsolescence, has long been a spent force even among most thinkers on the left. So it might have counted as mildly surprising that a writer at the left-leaning think tank Demos picks Polanyi as a champion to send into battle against libertarians (for what it’s worth, Demos now has a whole project, the “Gordon Gamm Initiative,” aimed at finding fault with libertarians; more here from Trevor Burrus). Assigning my Cato colleague Alex Nowrasteh to refute the Polanyi thesis, as Cato’s Libertarianism.org does here, is like sending in a skilled shipbreaker with power tools to remove the stuffing from a scarecrow.

Update: In response to Matt Bruenig, Alex bounces the rubble.

{ 3 comments }

1 Richard Nieporent 09.15.13 at 11:45 am

I’ve noticed that Leftists spend an inordinate amount of time attacking ideas and people that they disagree with … no make that hate. A perfect example is Ayn Rand/Objectivism. While it is easy to see why they would be against her ideas, there is zero chance that Objectivism will become a viable political movement and yet they go out of their way to pile calumny upon calumny on her. Another good example is the Tea Party. While the Tea Party certainly has more influence than the Objectivist movement, the lies and vicious attacks on the movement go far beyond any rational disagreement with its ideas. We can also throw in Sarah Palin to the mix. The misogyny displayed in the Leftists’ attacks upon her should have been a major embarrassment to any rational Leftist. However, it would seem that such people do not exist.

2 John Fembup 09.15.13 at 12:44 pm

“the market economy was a novel and alien mode of human interaction imposed by strong central government”

So Polanyi theorizes that the voluntary agreement of a willing seller and a willing buyer must somehow be imposed by a strong central government?

Those consarned markets! They work in practice even though they don’t work in theory. Not in Polanyi’s Orwellian theory anyway.

3 D 09.16.13 at 6:36 pm

“like sending in a skilled shipbreaker with power tools to remove the stuffing from a scarecrow”
Wow, that’s the best simile I’ve seen in years!

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