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The relevance of a Polanyi-inspired analysis when interpreting socio-economic developments in the Nordics
University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Business and Economic Studies, Business administration.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9802-5932
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In the suggested paper I want to show that Polanyi-inspired models of interpretation and derived concepts can help us finding new ways of understanding Nordic developments. Most of the empiric material will come from Sweden. My frame of analysing as well as central references can be found in Hollander (2017). In this abstract I do two things: First I give some hints as to how I position my own views in relation to what I understand to be the intended main discourse at the conference. Second I illustrate the fruitfulness of analysing Swedish developments when bringing a Polanyian paradigm up to date.

1) Positioning

From an admittedly shallow reading of the two keynotes – Andreas Bergh and Erik Bengtsson – I infer that my understanding of Nordic developments differ from both. They of course have divergent views in relation to each other on a number of key issues but my preliminary view is that my position represents yet a third view. 

For illustrative purposes I can mention that the social capital erosion following from the restructuring of the public sector, the rising inequality etc to my mind will have devastating effects on the long term resilience of the institutions. Other contradictions in types of analysis I believe can be deduced from Polanyian concepts such as Reciprocity and retrograde countermovements (see below). The concept retrograde countermovement rests on an interpretation rather than being Polanyian in a strict sense. So is the conceptembedded liberalism which is useful and can be understood in relation to Polanyi. It is, however, doubtful to me whether Polanyi used the term when discussing post-world war II developments. (This is discussed in an illuminating way by Gareth Dale in Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left. See also the review of that book by Robert Kuttner in NYRB 21/12/2017).

In relation to the problematique of Trondheim conference I am convinced that the frame I suggest could be very fruitful also for interpreting other Nordic countries than Sweden. I will, however, not have the time to dive deep into this before June.

 

2) Emerging Concepts for Understanding Nordic-type Models.

Useful Polanyian concepts can emerge from sketching the rise and fall of Swedish embedded liberalism.

My departure in the main part of the paper will be a chapter where I studied ‘The Contemporary Relevance of Karl Polanyi’ with Sweden as a vantage point (Hollander 2017 – <http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-23542>). A central aspect was Financialisation.This is a global trend but it has been effected at an extraordinary pace in Sweden. 

In the 1960s our country was heralded as a paradigm of decommodification. Regulation of financial markets interacted with physical and social capital accumulation, building the Welfare State and (re-) embedding of labour, housing etc.

Financial regulations were removed and recommodification tried in the 1980s but the processes started in earnest in the early 1990s. Commodification prepared for pervasive financialisation also in such areas as childcare, schooling, eldercare, health etc. The financialisation of Swedish HEW led me to the idea that Polanyi’s list of fictitious commodities might have to be extended with Semi-fictitious Commodities

The logic behind the creation of Semi-fictitious Commodities can be better understood by studying Swedish developments. And the same applies to other fields of study of Polanyian relevance.

One example is the importance of focusing a form of economic coordination discussed by Polanyi et.al. (1957)[Polanyi, K., Arensberg, C. M. and Pearson, H. W. (eds.) (1957) Trade and Market in the Early Empires: Economies in History and Theory. Illinois: The Free Press].
I am referring to Reciprocity– the oldest form of human coordination for wellbeing. It has ben largely neglected by economists who have focused instead on two other forms – Market and Redistribution.

When studying the centuries’ long building of the institutions of embedded liberalismand the contemporary tearing down of them Reciprocity is important. Sweden provides pertinent examples of this and of other aspects of the rise and fall of those institutions. The risks that laissez-faire type disembedding can pave the way for right-wing authoritarianism are also illuminated. Weakened Reciprocity and Redistribution open up for retrograde countermovements.

Also the dependency on higher-level developments (higher than the national level) are made clear when this small country is looked at. Bretton Woods in 1944 was important for building of the welfare state. Four decades later Sweden was able to withstand the reemergence of global finance longer than most other countries in the global north but when this ended the consequences were thoroughgoing. As Polanyi argued, the forces unleashed by attempts to make ‘money’ into a commodity, must be put at centre stage.

Important sections of the proposed paper will deal with how the legacies of Swedish embedded liberalism, and some of the lessons from the disembedding, can be used for the future. As examples of the legacies from the golden age of Swedish social democracy I can point to good relative records in areas such as Gender equalityWork-place codeterminationPeer-to-peer-productionand Ecological sustainability. Interpretations of how those traits emerged can provide relevant lessons for the future of work globally.

 

Hollander (2017) is a chapter in Theory and Method of Evolutionary Political Economy: A Cyprus Symposium/ [ed] Hardy Hanappi, Savvas Katsikides, Manuel Scholz-Wäckerle, Abingdon: Routledge. Full name of chapter is ”The Contemporary Relevance of Karl Polanyi – a Swedish Case” (pp. 54-72)

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
Keywords [en]
Karl Polanyi, Nordic Socio Economic Models, Reciprocity, Retrograde countermovements
National Category
Economic History Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-28685OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-28685DiVA, id: diva2:1266302
Conference
EAEPE and YSI-INET International Symposium 2018 - Paradigms of economic policy: examples and lessons from the Nordics; NTNU Business School, Trondheim, Norway; 14-15 June 2018
Available from: 2018-11-27 Created: 2018-11-27 Last updated: 2018-12-17Bibliographically approved

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