Friday, 16 February 2018

Taking a Stroll Down Memory Lane (ii)

Resuming from last time: Signs that things weren't fine for capitalism and that people started to notice didn't end with a few scattered economists discussing things among themselves, or some economics students demanding unspecified changes in academic syllabi. Not even with the mega rich performing their annual rituals at Davos.

The electoral victories (2007 and 2008, respectively) of Kevin Rudd (Australia) and Barack Obama (the US) are further signs, particularly with the unleashing of a campaign representing Keynesian economics as a sort of "progressive" economics.

There's more, if that doesn't convince you: the Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn phenomena are other, clearer, examples. Indeed, in their cases the backlash by the Democratic and Labour mainstreams against even the modest shifts leftwards those two guys represent fits in well with the main topic of this post (more on this later).

In fact, the rise of the loony far right, however troubling, also points to dissatisfaction with the current situation.

On top, there's the growing talk of an uninhabitable Earth. (On the other hand, things in Ethiopia are going mighty fine, or so I've been told. So, capitalism's fans can breath again).


Amidst the mounting disappointment with capitalism and globalisation and now with inequality (both of which Labourites and Democrats contributed to create), since at least the 1990s an academic movement sprang out not so much to rehabilitate reformist social democracy, but to resurrect it altogether from its grave.

The idea seems to be to try and remove the Blairite-Clintonite taint hanging over it.

That’s, more or less, when long-forgotten names started to pop up around in popular media.

Karl Polanyi, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing bad -- or good, for that matter -- to say about that Karl: although I’ve started reading about him and his ideas, I’m not ready to make any pronouncement, yet. This jury is still out.

The reactions to Polanyi, however, puzzle me. On the one hand, people whose opinions I respect seem to think highly of him. A point goes to Polanyi.

The obsessive ill-will others demonstrate towards him suggests he might have been onto something, too. Believe it or not, that kind of thing may not make Polanyi's case, but it still helps it.

On the other hand (you know what they say about economics) other things seem less favourable to Polanyi. I got a feeling of almost back-handed compliment when I saw ultra-Keynesian Brad DeLong, a self-described “neoliberal freak” who flies his flag high for globalisation, singing the praises of Polanyi and Alexis de Tocqueville …  at the same time, in the same sentence, for Christ’s sake! One suspects that maybe is not so much what Polanyi wrote that recommends him to DeLong and that Polanyi was indeed elusive, as Daniel Luban said:
“To some extent Polanyi’s current popularity reflects the desire of the non-Marxist left for a champion of its own to compete with that other Karl.”
If that's not a sign something's wrong with capitalism, I don't know what is.


This leads us to the subject of revisionism. Just like Karl Polanyi may have gained new fans at least in part because his surname is not Marx, I’ve seen others going even further back in time in search for an anti-Marx champion. (The good and wise like to identify ideologies and philosophies with names: Hayek becomes synonymous with "liberalism", Marx with "socialism", Keynes with whatever it is Keynesians believe, and so on).

Like I said, I'm not ready to make pronouncements about Polanyi, but I'm more than ready in Eduard Bernstein's case.



  1. Cant wait for ur dear ede posts, swoopin one
    -- da oo

    1. I've already told you that story, lil'dude. :-)

    2. Lol its a good story ol'dude