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transformed into a wilderness

Fukushima is a wasteland, but nuclear fallout isn't the problem ...

The Chicago School – Friedman and his acolyte thugs – recommended we let the market alone decide. Thatcher said there is no such thing as society. Polyani connects the two: he suggests that the implementation of market fundamentalist principles will end in the collapse of society.

Polyani says that to commodify and abuse labor is to diminish the life of the person whose labor is being used. It disposes of our basic natures: physical, psychological and moral! Outrageous. He reconnects what has been alienated: the person with her work.

He says that a market that governs all removes the protections afforded by our shared institutions, which causes social breakdown: crime, starvation, pollution, loss of military and food security – and the dissolution of society itself into a wasteland.

To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity, “labor power” cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity of “man” attached to the tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.

Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, 1944

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.

Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, 1944
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the fullness of freedom

In 1944 Karl Polyani wrote about good and bad freedoms.

He described bad freedom as:

“the freedom to exploit one’s fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage”

And good freedom as:

The market economy under which these freedoms throve also produced freedoms we prize highly:  Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose one’s own job.

For Polyani the good freedoms are “by-products of the same economy that was also responsible for the evil freedoms.”

Then he wrote a prescription for a better future; one which is broader, more transparent and inclusive and ultimately more hopeful; one which twins freedom with justice:

The passing of the market economy can become the beginning of an era of unprecedented freedom.  Juridical and actual freedom can be made wider and more general than ever before; regulation and control can achieve freedom not only for the few, but for all.  Freedom not as an appurtenance of privilege, tainted at the source, but as a prescriptive right extending far beyond the narrow confines of the political sphere into the intimate organization of society itself.  Thus will old freedoms and civic rights be added to the fund of new freedoms generated by the leisure and security that industrial society offers to all.  Such a society can afford to be both just and free.

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