To his devotees, Polanyi showed the free market to be the enemy of humanity in “The Great Transformation.” It was an alien form of social organization, he argued, created in 18th-century England only by state action propelled by ideologues. By displacing the natural social state — an idyllic system of mutual obligations that bound and protected individuals — the free market brought inequality, war, oppression, and social turmoil to just and peaceful societies.
“The Great Transformation” has attained the status of a classic in branches of sociology, political science, and anthropology. Stacks of it await undergraduate initiates each year in college bookstores. Citations to the work continue to accumulate in scholarly articles. Yet in economics the work is unknown — or, when discussed, derided. Thus the cruel irony of the term “social sciences.”
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