Better than (Karl) Polanyi

There was some debate on Twitter yesterday about Karl Polanyi’s . Noah Smith linked to this post reporting some research (can’t say it sounds very rigorous) taken to indicate that economists don’t read this book. Summary finding:

“All in all, 66 persons responded (25 percent). This isn’t at all bad, considering that these were cold calls. Approximately 3 percent of economists at elite departments have read Polanyi (assuming that those that did not reply have not read him).”

Hmm. Not sure about that assumption. Anyway, Noah’s response was that economists tend to read new books. Dani Rodrik said: “Polanyi is a hard read and hard sell for economists. But he’s been incredibly influential for my own work.” I got some (very) mild Twitter stick for saying I had read it but wouldn’t set it for my students.

[amazon_image id=”080705643X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time[/amazon_image]

There are several reasons for this. Above all, the book is historically inaccurate – Deirdre McCloskey is the latest of many people to point this out in her new book, . So if one reads it, it needs to be from a history of thought perspective. Secondly, it’s about social relations and culture, so not central for economics students even though I wholeheartedly agree that economists in general need more hinterland in other areas of social science and history.

It’s also a dense read, and there are better books to recommend to students to introduce them to the social context of markets. I’d say the original Albert Hirschman books have aged better – for one – and aren’t marred by inaccuracies like The Great Transformation. Of more recent vintage, I think John McMillan’s James Scott’s and Michael Sandel’s cover the territory better.

[amazon_image id=”0674276604″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0393323714″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0241954487″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B00DO8SACA” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale Agrarian Studies) by Scott, James New Edition (1999)[/amazon_image]

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