Thursday 10 November 2016

The pace of change ...

As everyone is scratching their heads wondering how we got here (The UK, a large economic power, leaving a single market and the US, the main superpower, having a president who would like to erect walls and impose tariffs) it may be useful to remember the following words.

'Nowhere has liberal philosophy failed so conspicuously as in its understanding of the problem of change. [Its] common sense attitude toward change was discarded in favor of a mystical readiness to accept the social consequences of economic improvement, whatever they might be. ... It should need no elaboration that a process of undirected change, the pace of which is deemed too fast, should be slowed down ... so as to safeguard the welfare of the community.'

'The rate of progress have turned the process itself into a degenerative instead of a constructive event. For upon this rate, mainly, depended whether the dispossessed could adjust themselves to changed conditions without fatally damaging their substance, human and economic, physical and moral.' (The Great Transformation, p.37ff)

Karl Polanyi wrote this in 1944. His words remind us of the destructive character of change if we do not mitigate its worst consequences on communities through governmental intervention. Whilst he wrote this about change that came in the wake of enclosures in England, it equally applies to today's transformation by immigration, globalised markets and rapid technological progress. The liberal case for unfettered change depends in large measure on tarnishing everyone who struggles with the speed of change as a reactionary, or worse a racist and xenophob. Karl Polanyi was none of that. But he did recognise that communities cannot survive unless the moral, social and economic fabric is altered gradually rather than being torn apart in the name of economic progress that only benefits a small professional elite.

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