Karl Polanyi

Karl Polanyi was a Hungarian-American economic historian whose work revolutionized our understanding of the rise of modern capitalism. Born to Jewish parents, Polanyi fought in the First World War before escaping fascism to flee to the UK and then the USA, where he taught at Columbia University. He is best remembered for his masterpiece The Great Transformation, which argued that a market economy was imposed by enormous state intervention in a process that required the replacement of existing ideas of reciprocity with the myth that competition and markets are ‘natural’. He contended that the creation of ‘fictitious commodities’ in labour, land and money caused massive social dislocation and spontaneous reactions in favour of social protection. He also developed substantivism, a perspective stressing how economies are embedded in culture and society. Polity has published For a New West, an important collection of his writings.