I agree with Anne Mayhew’s assessment of Caleb Crain’s summary of Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation. I thought it was so good that I emailed a copy to some of my undergraduates early this summer.
Something that caught my interest in Crain’s review was the comment about Polanyi’s wife, Ilona Duczynaska. According to Crain, she “was a Communist engineer . . . [who] had smuggled tsarist diamonds out of Russia in a tube of toothpaste and once borrowed a pistol to assassinate Hungary’s Prime Minister, though he resigned before she could shoot him.” I earlier learned that she was not allowed to live in the U.S. because she was a communist but I was not aware that she was so active in early communist revolutionary activities. That set me off to ignore my own work and to google her record instead. There, I learned that she was even more involved with Moscow than indicated by Crain’s comment.
In one of her files, I also discovered different versions of a Polanyi lecture (about which I was not aware) that was a critique of John Galbraith’s Affluent Society. The main point of the negative part of Polanyi’s critique was Galbraith’s idea that the production level should be based on the amount of production necessary to have full employment. Had that issue been taken more seriously at the time, we would be further along in making decisions about how to adjust production to deal with global warming.
I intend to read Kuttner’s book, but from Crain’s review, I assume (a very loosey-goosey abductive assumption) that it is going to be too tied to a model of capitalism (hope not) to be of much assistance for understanding reality.
F. Gregory Hayden, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0489
Social Fabric Matrix Approach
In the May 14 issue of The New Yorker there is a review article on Robert Kuttner's new book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? by Caleb Crain. I have not yet read Kuttner's book but can tell you that in reviewing it, Crain provides what is probably the best relatively short and easily read summary of Polanyi's The Great Transformation that I have ever read. According to Crain, Kuttner "champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. I plan to get a copy of Kuttner's book but in the meantime, I strongly recommend Crain's review.