Comments on Schaniel and Neale's Comments on Hamilton
Hamilton, David, Journal of Economic Issues
As one never particularly apt at scholarly disputation, especially that which takes place in the backs of journals, my first inclination was to pass on the offer to comment on the Schaniel/Neale objections to my interpretation of Polanyi. I much prefer to cut and run. But then, since they have been offered in good spirit and in an effort to straighten out an errant interpretation of Karl Polanyi, I thought it only a mark of civilized behavior to acknowledge that they have been made.
The casual reader of these interchanges might get the impression that the source of the disputation was a paper devoted to an exposition of the economic and anthropological analysis of Karl Polanyi. But that, of course, was not the case. If in presenting the major thrust of the paper under discussion I have twisted the meanings of the excellent work of Polanyi, I stand corrected.
And that correction is accepted in good spirit because, in my reading of the work of Polanyi, it was always with at least two cheers. I thought that he was most certainly onto something-the significance of anthropology for contemporary economic analysis. We as economists have far more to learn from anthropology than do anthropologists from economics. As a matter of fact, when anthropologists from the capitalist world apply formal economic market analysis to so-called primitive peoples, they would seem to me to be extremely ethnocentric. We are, after all, dealing with human behavior, not with atoms. Any set of principles that is so universal that it covers all forms of a changing and disparate human behavior is so general as to be synonymous with what we are trying to explain. It is simply another word for human behavior. This error Polanyi most certainly did not commit.
However, I must defer to my critics in their interpretation of Polanyi. In this case, I think we may be more in agreement than at first might appear. I too agree that Polanyi did not perceive reciprocity as characterizing our market society. That is the source of my consternation. The market economy seems to me to be a huge example of reciprocity in action. And conventional economic theory seems bell-bent on demonstrating in a case of total equilibrium that all reciprocal obligations would be met. The great virtue of the market, in the eyes of the enamored theorist, is that it does indeed meet all the demands of reciprocity. People receive satisfactions from consumption exactly equivalent to the blood, sweat, and tears they have expended in production. It is equational (reciprocal?) justice on a grand scale. As I first read The Great Transformation, rather belatedly somewhere about 1957, I thought, having the benefit of previously having read Mike Wagner's The Theory of Economic Equilibrium: A Reflection of Social Reciprocity, that Polanyi was going to confirm Wagner . And whether it was at Speenhamland Tavern or not too long thereafter, the market replaced reciprocity, and I was sorely disappointed.
It seems to me that the concept of reciprocity, as found in the work of Malinowski and Mauss, has really two meanings: a ceremonial and a technological one [Malinowski 1950; Mauss 1954!. In a sense, the first of these-the ceremonial-simulates the technological reality. It is perhaps a cliche to note our technological interdependence, although I doubt that all of those who readily view it as a cliche are cognizant of its full meaning. One can note technological interdependence and assume that it means nothing more than that we all do different things or, perhaps, only one another's wash. But technological interdependence is what I take Veblen to have meant when he referred to the life process. It is most certainly implicit in Oakley's concept of "man the tool maker" and Gordon Childe's notion that "man makes himself' [Oakley 1957; Childe 1951!.
Technologically we are all related interdependently. This holds true for all societies. …