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Questioning the Utopian Springs of Market Economy

by Adam David Morton on October 31, 2018
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A new special issue of the journal Globalizations has just been published and brings together articles on Karl Polanyi and Friedrich Hayek that were initially presented, or otherwise have their origins, in an international conference ‘Questioning the Utopian Springs of Market Economy’, held at the University of Sydney (15-16 August, 2014) co-organised by myself and Damien Cahill and Martijn Konings.

The conference was the first major initiative stemming from my move to the University of Sydney and was combined with the launch of the Progress in Political Economy (PPE) blog. Our thinking behind the occasion was to coincide the conference with the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of two seminal political economy texts, namely Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom that were both published in 1944. The conference was organised around three keynote plenaries—delivered by Philip Mirowski, Sandra Halperin and Gareth Dale—of which revised versions appear in this issue. There were also a number of parallel paper sessions over the course of two days. Articles from Nicola Short, Philip Roberts, João Rodrigues, Jeremy Shearmur, Martijn Konings, Robert Smith, Damien Cahill and again myself are all included in the issue.

The special issue is explicitly crafted as a continuation of the project of comparative economy: a ‘Polanyi-plus’ approach—as coined by Jamie Peck—to economic geography, economic and historical sociology, feminist economics, political ecology, political economy and international studies, which entails a creative interdisciplinary border-crossing of methodological explorations that may span capitalist and non-capitalist forms related to spaces of uneven development.

For Polanyi, the utopian springs of the dogma of liberalism existed within the extension of the market mechanism to the ‘fictitious commodities’ of land, labour, and money. There was nothing natural about laissez-faire. The progress of the utopia of a self-regulating market was backed by the state and checked by a double movement, which attempted to subordinate the laws of the market to the substance of human society through principles of self-protection, legislative intervention, and regulation.

For Hayek, the utopia of freedom was threatened by the abandonment of individualism and classical liberalism. The tyranny of government interventionism led to the loss of freedom, the creation of an oppressive society, and the despotism of dictatorship that led to the serfdom of the individual. Economic planning in the form of socialism and fascism had commonalities that stifled individual freedom. Against the power of the state, the guiding principle of the policy of freedom for the individual was advocated.

The idea of pairing the two books as the topic of a conference was experimental but the energy that pervaded the conference convinced us of the intellectual significance and political usefulness of considering these interventions side by side and this is what led us to continue the project after the conference by curating this special issue.

We would like to thank everyone who was involved in the conference for contributing to the project. The special issue contains the following contributions:

Adam David Morton
Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is author of Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Political Economy (2007); Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (2011), recipient of the 2012 Book Prize of the British International Studies Association (BISA) International Political Economy Group (IPEG); and co-author of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis (2018) with Andreas Bieler. He co-edits Progress in Political Economy (PPE) with Gareth Bryant that was the recipient of the 2017 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for the Best Blog (Group) and the 2018 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media.

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