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Kari Polanyi Levitt in "Polanyi on Polanyi" Series

Kari Polanyi Levitt, Emerita Professor of Economics at McGill University, is a legend in the economics profession, famous for her contributions to economic development and economic sovereignty. But she has also had a legendary life: the only child of the influential political economist Karl Polanyi, Kari’s research has carried her from the London Blitz to the Canadian labor movement to the government of Trinidad and Tobago. In this series Polanyi reflects on an extraordinary life, and the extraordinary legacy of her family.

Series, description and video by Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Formative Years

Daughter of the political economist Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska, a leader of the Hungarian Communist revolution, Polanyi Levitt was born in Vienna in 1923. In this clip, she talks about her youth in interwar Vienna, and how that shaped her outlook on the issues facing the world today.

Becoming Involved in Economics

Kari Polanyi Levitt reflects on her education and career as an economist, in the UK, Canada, and the Caribbean. As an undergraduate at LSE, she studied with scholars such as Nicholas Kaldor and W. Arthur Lewis. Once in Canada, she was writing for labor unions and overseeing the preparation of the input-output tables of Canada’s Atlantic region for Statistics Canada. A request from the Canadian social democratic party (the NDP) brought her to study the effects of FDIs on an economy dominated by extractive industries, a topic she developed in her book published in 1970 Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada. In the 1960s, encounters with Alister McIntyre, Stephen Hymer and others brought her not only to study transnational corporations but also to study development economics, focusing on the Caribbean countries, which she first began visiting in 1960. Since then, she developed systematic collaboration with scholars at the University of the West Indies, especially Lloyd Best with whom she wrote the landmark study: Essays on the Theory of Plantation Economy: A Historical and Institutional Approach to Caribbean Economic Development.

The Perils of Globalization and the Need for a Democratic Developmental State

Kari Polanyi Levitt examines the impact of globalization and financialization on our politics, economy, and society, and the need for policies that are conservative, in the sense that they are protective of humanity and the environment.

Karl's Legacy

Kari Polanyi Levitt discusses the work of her father, the influential political economist Karl Polanyi, and the dramatic return to modernity of his warnings against unregulated capitalism, which has disrupted the fabric of society, and trust in democracy. She also discusses her most recent book From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization.

Looking Ahead

Kari Polanyi Levitt looks at the challenges facing the world today. We face three existential crises, which we are not even beginning to address: collapse of the ecological infrastructure, the weaponization of international relations and increase in military investments, and the ICT revolution, with the new structure of power it has brought about and its implications for freedom, privacy and democracy.


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