Don’t Surrender Silently

Published: September 2, 2013 - 14:10 Updated: February 3, 2014 - 02:06

If any book can change the fortunes of markets amid such mayhem, then From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization by Kari Polyani Levitt it is!

The 90-year-old development economist and author of Silent Surrender has been warning the world ever since the 1970s of the tragic consequences of allowing multinational corporations to dominate industry. Kari is the only child of Karl Polyani, author of The Great Transformation, written in 1944. The Hungarian emigre and senior editor of Vienna’s Oesterreichische Volkswirt, Central Europe’s leading financial and economic weekly of the time, saw the danger of uprooting economic activities away from deeper environmental, social and cultural concerns of human beings.

Even at that time, economists like Karl Polyani concluded that different regions require different solutions to economic and social problems that are respectful of indigenous institutions and values. The problem today is the US-led drive to restructure the world in the image of its own institutions. Another word for the financial power of a few today is globalisation, a futile attempt to impose Anglo-American institutions and an Anglo-American style of capitalism on the entire world.

According to Kari, who continues the argument from where her father left off, the present-day crisis is due to ‘financialization’—or the rapid transfer of resources of a community to individual owners. The crisis will not go away if huge financial assets in the hands of a handful continue to be rewarded and production and manufacturing are ignored.

Kari has been working on this book for years. Despite failing eyesight, she has at last gifted readers a spirited insight into a world gone so wrong. She has always argued that the industrial revolution transformed land and labour, people and nature, into instruments for achieving the sole objective of increased production of commodities, in the form of goods or services.

Naturally, when the market-capitalist system gets so embedded in the political and social life of people the crisis of a terrible imbalance in the purpose of existence follows. When the economy is planned in this way to give such importance to money it eventually destroys other essential qualities of human beings, transforming life and surroundings into a commodity fetish.

For Kari, history is important. Particularly social and economic history that teaches that societies are diverse, colourful and uniquely different from each other and the economy of every society in the past was embedded in its own particular social institutions. It is only in crass capitalism, or market society, that relationships are turned upside down, and the economy rules over politics, ideologies, religion, everything else.

She worries that the burgeoning middle classes elsewhere will become even more enamoured of brand names and waste resources that have already drained people in the West

When the economy is made the only driving force and the most important aspect of everything in life, then countries find themselves in the shit that we float in today. The solution simply is the ‘disembedding’ of the economy from human and social relations. Indeed, ‘financialization’ is the cause of ruin that globally transfers real resources from producers and taxpayers to individuals or institutional owners of financial assets. This kind of globalisation gives birth to inequality, instability and resentment amongst people.

Today, Kari pleads for creative thinking and new initiatives to protect development from devastation by financial hurricanes fed by investors who freely move funds in and out of countries at the tap of a keyboard. This is done with no responsibility about the impact of their actions on people. Kari pleads with community leaders worldwide to protect nature and their social and cultural heritage. She is sure that people do not like to be valued and respected only for the income which they earn. And it is outright inhuman to feel nothing but disrespect and disgust for those who earn little or less.

The dismantling by more and more governments of social protection that had previously existed for people is quite dreadful. Kari fears that more and more people infected with the virus of consumerism will continue to engage in business as usual without any discussion as to what that business means. She worries that the burgeoning middle classes elsewhere in the world will become even more enamoured of brand names and misspent resources that have already drained people in the West. Kari would like to see the world move away from the western frames of thought; she would want to transform societies in a more easterly direction.

It is Kari’s hope that future generations will ‘slow’ the tendencies toward economic growth and pull back from consumerism to make market choices that are more social friendly. This is her idea of a brave, new world.

This story is from print issue of HardNews