Saturday, June 18, 2016

Karl Polanyi and the future of progressive economics

One economist that as been receiving deserved new attention since the 2008 crash is Karl Polanyi (1886-1964).

Patrick Iber and Mike Konczal write about him in Karl Polanyi for President Dissent 05/23/2016:

...Polanyi also helps explains some of the tensions within the Democratic Party. One of the divides within the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton has been between a social-democratic and a “progressive” but market-friendly vision of addressing social problems. Take, for example, health care. Sanders proposes a single-payer system in which the government pays and health care directly, and he frames it explicitly in the language of rights: “healthcare is a human right and should be guaranteed to all Americans regardless of wealth or income.”

Clinton, meanwhile, describes affordable health care as a right. Clinton also wants higher education to remain a market commodity, because she says that if the government paid, it would needlessly be giving a free ride to the children of the wealthy and the upper-middle class. Clinton’s reasoning appeals to ideas of market efficiency, while Sanders, in stating that “Education should be a right, not a privilege,” appeals to ideas of community beyond markets.

Sanders here offers a straightforward defense of decommodification — the idea that some things do not belong in the marketplace—that is at odds with the kind of politics that the leadership of the Democratic Party has offered more or less since Carter and the narrow policy “wonk” focus that tends to dominate coverage.
Bob Kuttner also writes about him in Karl Polanyi Explains It All The American Prospect 04/15/2014:

Contrary to libertarian economists from Adam Smith to Hayek, Polanyi argued, there was nothing “natural” about the free market. Primitive economies were built on social obligations. Modern commercial society depended on “deliberate State action” by and for elites. “Laissez-faire” he writes, savoring the oxymoron, “was planned.”

Libertarian economists, who treat the market as universal—disengaged from local cultures and historic time—are fanatics whose ideas end in tragedy. Their prescription means “no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.”

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