Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left

By Moravcsik, Andrew | Foreign Affairs, November/December 2016 | Go to article overview

Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left


Moravcsik, Andrew, Foreign Affairs


Western Europe Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left BY GARETH DALE. Columbia University Press, 2016, 400 pp.

The Hungarian sociologist Karl Polanyi, who eventually settled in Canada, was one of the most prescient and persuasive political economists of the mid-twentieth century. In pioneering historical analyses, he argued that a "great transformation" took place in the early nineteenth century that systematically destroyed the premodern systems of welfare and social justice and established unfettered free markets- and thus reduced individual laborers to expendable commodities. His basic premise, drawn from Marxist theory, was that unregulated markets are based on political coercion. They also generate inequality, which those who support market liberalization foster misleading ideologies to justify. …

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