Economy and Society Article Published in Fully Open Access Format
Title: 'The Great Transformation and Progressive Possibilities: The Political Limits of Polanyi's Marxian History of Economic Ideas', Economy and Society, 43 (4), 2014, 603-625.
The electronic version is on the Economy and Society website in fully open access format. It is also featured on Routledge's Most Read website, which provides access to the three most downloaded papers from each of its social science journals for 2014: http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/bes/social-sciences-most-read/sociology.
Abstract: Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation remains one of the stand-out texts of twentieth-century political economy, yet it contains important conceptual ambiguities. Perhaps most significantly, the later chapters reveal the influence of his own notion of an ‘always embedded economy’, but the earlier chapters are constructed around a much more abstract conception of ‘economy’ derived from an essentially Marxian history of economic ideas. Marx worked within the basic Ricardian conception of economy as a method of immanent critique, but then proceeded to also project it backwards onto pre-Ricardian traditions of economics. Polanyi did likewise, I argue, consequently missing the opportunity to connect his own notion of an always embedded economy to pre-Ricardian studies of the substantive basis of functioning economic relations. I use the following pages to try to restore one such link, in this instance to Adam Smith’s account of the moral ‘sympathy’ underpinning the process of market coordination. This reconstruction also has implications for progressive political possibilities today. Polanyian responses to the ongoing crisis have tended to be framed by the basic Ricardian conception of economy and have accordingly been restricted to a discussion of more market or less, more austerity or less. By contrast, tracing the lineage from pre-Ricardian concerns to Polanyi’s notion of an always embedded economy allows the much more potentially radical question to be asked of what sort of economic relations best serve essential human needs.