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The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time Paperback

ISBN-13: 004-6442056434 ISBN-10: 080705643X Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 2 edition (March 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080705643X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807056431
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

As the Second World War was drawing to a close in 1944, two great works of political economy were published. One was Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, the driving force behind the free-market revolution in the final quarter of the twentieth century. The other was Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation. . . . [It] is well worth reading. -Larry Elliott, The Guardian

"[The Great Transformation] did more than any work of that generation to broaden and deepen the critique of market societies."-John Buell, The Progressive

About the Author

Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) is considered one of the twentieth century's most discerning economic historians. He left his position as senior editor of Vienna's leading financial and economic weekly in 1933, became a British citizen, taught adult extension programs for Oxford and London Universities, and held visiting chairs at Bennington College and Columbia University. He is co-author of Christianity and the Social Revolution; author of The Great Transformation; Trade and Market in Early Empires (with C.Arnsberg and H.Pearson) and posthumously, Dahomey and the Slave Trade (with A.Rotstein).

Joseph E. Stiglitz was formerly chair of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, and chief economist of the World Bank. He is professor of economics at Stanford University, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Fred Block is professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis.

Customer Reviews

All this said, this book is very difficult to summarize since it is chock-full of thought-provoking insights.
Alberto Vargas
If this were, as they insist, true, then wherever one would look in human history one would find markets that were by their nature self-regulating.
Robert Moore
A number of modern neo-classical economists assert that this makes economics purely amoral, i.e., without regard for any ethics.
Eric Balkan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although this book was published in 1944, the same year as Hayek's THE ROAD TO SERFDOM, it remains as relevant as ever. Some say that it is dated and it is true that many of the historical references are not the ones that would spring to mind today, but the critique of the myth of the self-regulating free market remains as relevant and to-the-point as ever. One of the main targets of his book was the Vienna school of economics, the central figures of which were Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. What Polanyi does is help one to see how hopelessly naïve and ahistorical many of their central assumptions are. Though one might question some of the details of Polanyi's thesis, especially regarding the gold standard the causes of the two world wars, he makes two incredibly powerful arguments about the myth of the self-regulating market to which proponents of that theory have offered no convincing reply. More of this is a second.

Polanyi's method is multi-disciplinary. He wants to show by a multitude of ways that the central historical contentions of those advocates of the self-regulating market are simply fasle. These people have argued, for instance, that by nature humans engage in market trade and that these markets by nature are self-regulating. If this were, as they insist, true, then wherever one would look in human history one would find markets that were by their nature self-regulating. Remember, Adam Smith's Austrian heirs were making arguments not just about what ought to be, but what naturally is in a state of nature. They are making claims about what is the case if government and others will just get out of the way of the workings of nature. So to this end Polanyi looks at the results of anthropological and historical studies to see what the evidence shows.
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on January 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
Polanyi's The Great Transformation is truly a masterpiece of historical analysis and social theory. Polanyi deftly uses his extensive knowledge of economic history, anthropology, and political theory to demonstrate the failure of "market society" and the myopia of those who believe that the "free" market is the answer to all social ills. He's at his best when he combines his historical analysis of 18th and 19th century capitalism -- an experiment with a free market economy that resulted in the Great Depression and world war -- with anthropological data showing that there is no innate human propensity to engage in trade or accumulate wealth at the expense of others. Conservatives and libertarians hate this book because it thoroughly undermines their claims that markets are natural, spontaneous, and reflect the uncoerced interaction of free agents; the reviewer below who gave it 1 star is a case in point (he argues that "Polanyi fails to understand the essential nature of a free market, voluntary trade for mutual benefit," but the problem isn't that Polanyi doesn't understand such a concept but rather that he shows it isn't true). Other critics like to misrepresent Polanyi's arguments and paint him as a Marxist, a romantic, or an opponent of modernity; in reality, he was merely pointing out how devastating it is when every aspect of human life is left up to the market, with its cold logic of efficiency.

The Great Transformation is an exceptionally lucid and well-researched study that should be required reading for anyone interested in economics, social theory, political history, or international relations. Some reviewers have suggested that the book is outdated, but anyone interested in the current debates surrounding free trade, the IMF/World Bank, or Social Security privatization would be wise to pick up a copy of this fascinating book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Augustas B. on September 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
"Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness." (p. 3)

As one can see from possibly the most famous Polanyi quote, "The Great Transformation" is about the market and its consequences. This book is not an easy read; as Joseph Stiglitz acknowledges in his Foreword, it certainly has accessibility issues due to its language, certain details in its reasoning and the background knowledge it assumes on the part of the reader. However, I can only give this book five stars because of two great ideas it develops.

The first one is that the market economy is a fairly recent social construct. For most of human history, markets did not play a major role in economic organization; the "natural propensity to truck and barter" attributed to human beings by Adam Smith is actually apocryphal, as shown in Polanyi's discussion of early societies (p. 45). Polanyi describes in great detail the rise of the market society - the development of national markets, the slow move toward a free labor market and all the legislation that accompanied it. When seen in this perspective, the failure of shock therapy in Russia makes perfect sense: the market is in no way the natural state and it needs extensive institutional infrastructure to function properly (see "Globalization and its Discontents" by Joseph Stiglitz for more on this).

The second major idea here is the idea of double movement. It says that in society there are two main opposing forces working against each other.
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