This introduction places the contributions that follow in the context of Polanyi’s rising influence, its causes and effects, and of the key twenty-first century developments that make his oeuvre more relevant than ever. It emphasizes how the contributions push the boundaries of received understandings of Polanyi. While some contributions fill gaping holes, such as those on money as a fictitious commodity, others overturn received understandings, whether that of the double movement or fictitious commodities, or the provenance (Central European or American) of his principal ideas and concerns or how he understood socialism. Yet others demonstrate how amenable Polanyi’s ideas are to further development. Last but not least, the introduction outlines Polanyi’s historical diagnosis as it emerges from these innovative contributions and argues that the stark choice he felt faced European societies, socialism or fascism, is once again before us as we face the groundswell of nationalist and far right forces.
Though Polanyi referred to three distinct fictitious commodities, one, money, and the fate of the apex structure that commodified it, the gold standard, structured The Great Transformation’s narrative. Despite this centrality of money and its commodification to Polanyi’s masterwork, there is near-deafening silence in Polanyi scholarship on money as a fictitious commodity. This chapter ends it. It traces Polanyi’s understanding of fictitious commodities to its sources in classical political economy and explains how the near total dominance of the antithetical tradition of neoclassical economics obscures understanding. The chapter also argues that the resulting argument shared a great deal with the classical Marxist theories of imperialism and of uneven and combined development of previous decades, particularly their arguments about the centrality of powerful nation states to capitalism. It stresses another hitherto neglected aspect of Polanyi’s argument, that the double movement led to the emergence of ‘crustacean nations’. As such, the chapter argues, The Great Transformation contributes a great deal towards a new approach to understanding world affairs, geopolitical economy, which challenges Ricardian ‘universalist’ understandings and takes the ‘materiality of nations’ seriously. It, and Polanyi, are more relevant than ever in our ‘deglobalizing’ age of multi-polarity.
Karl Polanyi (1886–1964) returned to public discourse in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union imploded and globalization erupted. Best known for The Great Transformation, Polanyi’s wide-ranging thought anticipated twenty-first-century civilizational challenges of ecological collapse, social disintegration and international conflict, and warned that the unbridled domination of market capitalism would engender nationalist protective counter-movements. In Karl Polanyi and Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, Radhika Desai and Kari Polanyi Levitt bring together prominent and new thinkers in the field to extend the boundaries of our understanding of Polanyi's life and work. Kari Polanyi Levitt's opening essay situates Polanyi in the past century shaped by Keynes and Hayek, and explores how and why his ideas may shape the twenty-first century. Her analysis of his Bennington Lectures, which pre-dated and anticipated The Great Transformation, demonstrates how Central European his thought and chief concerns were. The next several contributions clarify, for the first time in Polanyi scholarship, the meaning of money as a fictitious commodity. Other contributions resolve difficulties in understanding the building blocks of Polanyi's thought: fictitious commodities, the double movement, the United States' exceptional development, the reality of society and socialism as freedom in a complex society. The volume culminates in explorations of how Polanyi has influenced, and can be used to develop, ideas in a number of fields, whether income inequality, world-systems theory or comparative political economy. Contributors: Fred Block, Michael Brie, Radhika Desai, Michael Hudson, Hannes Lacher, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Chikako Nakayama, Jamie Peck, Abraham Rotstein, Margaret Somers, Claus Thomasberger, Oscar Ugarteche Galarza.