As the eminent social scientist Karl Polanyi has stultified and debunked the erroneous ideas of economic determinism and market fundamentalism, Fred Block and Margaret Somers greatly contributed to the intellectual endeavor to manifest the ontological embeddedness of State-Economy-Society in their important and enlightening book The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique.
What is it about free-market ideas that give them tenacious staying power in the face of such failures as persistent unemployment, widening inequality, and the severe financial crises over the past forty years? In this excellent book Block and Somers extend the work of Karl Polanyi to explain why these ideas have revived from disrepute in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, to become the dominant economic ideology of our time.
In series of researches, first and foremost in the canonical and prophetic The Great Transformation, Polanyi – one of the founding fathers of economic sociology – contends that the free market championed by market liberals never actually existed. While markets are essential to enable individual choice, they cannot be self-regulating because they require ongoing state action. Furthermore, they cannot by themselves provide such necessities of social existence as education, health care, social and personal security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods are subjected to market principles, social life is threatened and major crises ensue.
Despite these theoretical flaws, market principles are powerfully seductive because they promise to diminish the role of politics in civic and social life. Because politics entails coercion and unsatisfying compromises among groups with deep conflicts, the wish to narrow its scope is understandable. But the ideology that free markets can replace government is just as utopian and dangerous.
The book’s introductory chapter is a well-integrated and brisk summary of Polanyi’s ideas. Other chapters provide erudite and engaging discussions of Polanyi’s social history, as well as astute comparisons of Polanyi with Keynes and Marx.
This thorough analysis should be an invaluable resource not just for economic sociologists and political economists, but also for other social scientists, policy makers, and citizens who are grappling to find better ways of interpreting the economic and political distress in these turbulent times.
Join Economic Sociology and Political Economy community via
Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram / Tumblr / Reddit / Telegram
[…] The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique Fred Block & Margaret R. Somers did a superb academic work, sagaciously encountering the […]
Theory&Society has just published a 20000-word critique of Bloch and Somers’ interpretation of Polanyi, worth checking out. https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11186-019-09359-z