Karl Polanyi on Ethics and Economics

Gregory Baum

This book was another overview of Polanyi’s economic theories, as written by a Catholic theologian and ethicist. Perhaps that is a sign of the type of person Polanyi attracts, possibly a detraction from his academic pedigree. I decided to go over this small book before visiting Polanyi’s primary sources in order to gap the expanse of time between then and now. Reading Baum has led me to understand the common charge of neo-primitivism which libertarians use against Polanyi. ... the charge is unfair, but I can understand how it could be made. Polanyi is like the philosopher I would’ve better liked to read when I was a teenager, wondering with some terror at the scale of the opaque and globalized society I was just beginning to understand. The notes on “complex society” are a clear attestation to that.

That said, the more I read of Polanyi, the less hope I end up having that I’ll find the solutions I’m after. Only proper, really. Perhaps I understand Polanyi less, and more about the reasons for why I am drawn to him in the first place. I might just be a sucker for the very idea of an “ethical economics,” if only because it seems like such an impossibility in itself.

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