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September 18, 2007


Danielle Mahan

As the commentators above have clarified, Polanyi explains the unnatural classification of nature, humans, and money as commodities, outlines the development of modern market economies and their shortcomings, justifies societies’ response to these shortcomings, and suggests a more adversarial role for governments. With the emergence of markets and especially production, which require land and labor (and later money), societies and governments immediately begin to protect these factors of production – protecting the agrarian industry and regulating wages. This very complex system is what Polanyi has dubbed “the Double Movement.” It is later defined as society’s constant tendency to resist the growing, self regulating market.
In this sense, a truly free, unregulated market is utopian and unrealistic. There never has been, and never will be, an economy functioning out of the purview of the government. In this realm of the embedded market there are two basic options- fascism and socialism. Polanyi doesn’t identify with Marx, but instead he defines socialism as “the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society.” For him, the economy is not only embedded in society, but dominates it and threatens to annihilate it. Socialism is the movement attempting to switch the point of power- for society to dominate the economy and use it to its aggregate advantage. Aggregate, in the sense that policy and regulation may promote equal and fair living standards for all. Here we achieve true freedom – not the freedom of deregulation of liberals, but a freedom allowing for liberties and equality among all.

Michael Pimentel

The market system, while nursed on false pretenses and indecent means, has come, to define our lives; it has thrust society into the pursuit of profit, and by virtue, has unacquainted its machinations from social matters. Allowed to expand, the market system, as detailed by Polanyi, has commodified those things which we should not deny to even the lowliest of people: land, money, and dominion over one's self. Moreover, as alluded to before, it has painted unprofitable, any proposition that fortifies its order with humanistic goals. While Polanyi was writing for a time much different from our own, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would object to the relevance of his arguments in today's political arena. It seems that now, more than ever, discussions about global warming, universal health care, and the continuation of an unjust/misguided war have brought to light the great inequities of our market system and have called into question why a chasm between market profitability and the promotion of societal well-being exists. If we are to heed to Polanyi's words and reverse any of the adverse affects of the market system without doing away with it, we must do so by forcing it to see its responsibilities. The market system, in it's nascency was established so that by following our self-interest we could promote the well-being of others, however, we have grown to the point, where self-interest promotes profits and not the well-being of people. We’ve allowed ourselves, through ignorance or unwillingness to forfeit our economic gospel, to become marginalized and degraded. In order to enact change, we must enlist our government’s to offer their assistance, either by holding those profit seeking entities accountable for the destruction they cause, or by levying taxes on them to support social initiatives that will further promote the social growth of our communities. In other words, we must change the course of our economic endeavors to include social costs, and subsidize those things that will help the market system to better distribute wealth. For while the market system is indeed flawed, to say that it needs to be put down may be too farfetched for current times; at the very least, we can help eliminate the negative aspects of the system by infusing it with some humanity.

Christiaan Strong

Polanyi’s theories of market economy and the state provide great incentive to adopt his sentiments concerning the need to understand the two as a single entity, as a Market Society. Economic study and political science have many overlapping issues that are not fully addressed by both social sciences. Economists will focus solely on the movement of the market and not pay attention to the social ramifications that may have been created. While the study of one science may neglect the other, Polanyi would find that an economist’s lack of attention to the social changes prompted by laissez-faire markets is the real cause of the pre-WWI liberal world down fall and the feeling that socialism and fascism were a necessity to correct the social short comings of that time.
Polanyi states that a market that is without regulation or political oversight has indeed created the distinct studies of economics and political science without giving any great consideration to the other. This in turn has prompted citizens that feel cheated by the great social wealth created by the capitalist societies to support socialist groups that can’t seem to find a common ground among the multiple their multiple identities. From Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier we have witnessed the separation of socialist groups and almost all would agree that fascism can not provide for the equality for citizens when such a society often means the oppression of those who are not willing to acquiesce to such stringent fascist regimes, as witnessed throughout history. Polanyi would therefore, advocate for closer understanding between the two fields of study and that further understanding and implementation of political decision making will reflect the needs of the citizens of all social stratum. Government intervention of a capitalist market can thus be understood as a useful tool to control the market while providing for the greater good of it’s citizens as well.

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