chapter  9
30 Pages


Five decades ago, the Viennese social economist Karl Polanyi wrote a celebrated essay, “Our Obsolete Market Mentality,” arguing that marketdriven thinking was a vestige of the industrial revolution. Polanyi claims that this approach transforms “a human economy into a self-adjusting system of markets, [thereby casting] our thoughts and values in the mold of this unique innovation.”1 Now was the time, he suggested, to transcend the age of the market and to re-embed the economic system into society; little did Polanyi suspect what history had in store for contemporary Man. Today, half a century later, the market mentality is anything but obsolete. In fact, we are witnessing a market revival of an intensity and scope rarely encountered since the Middle Ages. Virtually everywhere the role of government is being trimmed; venerable social programs questioned, weakened or abolished; social controls of the market being deregulated; and public enterprise privatized. In short, we are falling back head-over-heels to an age of economic laissez-faire, a frightening age similar to the inhumane times that provoked Sismondi to speak out. This surprisingly rapid resurgence of the market, threatening to reverse 150 years of gradual progress in social policy, strikes at the very heart of social economics and cries out for some explanation.