Karl Polanyi, whose ideas took form in 1920s Vienna in direct opposition to the free-market orthodoxy of Ludwig von Mises, has gained belated recognition as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. His central argument, contra von Mises, is that a self-regulating economic system is a completely imaginary construction, impossible to achieve or maintain.
In the first half century of Dissent’s history, Karl Polanyi almost never made an appearance in the magazine’s pages. On one level this is surprising, because Polanyi was a presence in socialist circles in New York City from 1947 through the mid-1950s, the period of Dissent’s gestation. On another level it is unsurprising, in that Polanyi was a heterodox thinker—even among fellow socialists. With some significant exceptions, it has taken decades to recognize the extraordinary theoretical contributions to socialist thought that he made in his masterpiece, The Great Transformation: The Social and Political Origins of Our Time, first published in 1944.
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