Karl Polanyi by Gareth Dale

Karl Polanyi by Gareth Dale

Author:Gareth Dale
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: BIO006000, Biography & Autobiography/Historical, HIS037070, History/Modern/20th Century
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Published: 2016-06-13T16:00:00+00:00


Polanyi had written The Great Transformation in the United States, and the prospect of developing his research program in that country was enticing. A particularly appropriate venue appeared to be Columbia University. In the interwar years it had been one of America’s premier universities in the social sciences, rivaling Harvard and Chicago, and had attracted some extraordinarily gifted Austro-Hungarian émigrés and refugees—including Bela Bartok, Paul Lazarsfeld, and John von Neumann.22 Its economics faculty was comparatively progressive, with a long-established cluster of institutionalist economists around Wesley Mitchell, and they drew philosophical inspiration from another left-liberal Columbia don whom Polanyi knew and hugely admired, John Dewey.23 Arguably, the institutionalist voice at Columbia was faltering, but in terms of the number of doctoral students in economics it remained the country’s leading institution.24 Mitchell had retired in 1944, but the flame was kept alive by the likes of John Maurice Clark, Carter Goodrich, and Ragnar Nurkse.

In autumn 1946 Polanyi wrote to a Columbia sociologist, MacIver, and to the Amherst economist Walter Stewart to inquire into the possibility of securing a position at a U.S. university.25 He tentatively asked MacIver whether a one or two-year visiting professorship might be available in the Department of Economics at Columbia.26 Encouraged by the Scottie’s response, he submitted a formal application by letter to Goodrich. If appointed, he intended to conduct research “relating to the place occupied by the economic system in human society,” covering the fields of “Primitive Economics, the institutional aspect of Market economy, as well as the International system.” While a position in International Relations or Political Science would be ideal, he added, working in the Economics Department would be perfectly acceptable.27 It was Polanyi’s good fortune that Goodrich and other institutionalists were well represented on the appointments committee, and his application also received support from Stewart.28 Within a week he learned to his delight that it had been approved, albeit for one term only. In January 1947 he embarked at Southampton, bound for New York.29

Aside from several cruel bouts of illness, and the absence—apart from at the General Studies Economics Club—of inspiring debate, Polanyi’s first months at Columbia were by all accounts “exceedingly” enjoyable.30 He kept busy, “working from morning until evening,” with the hours dividing between “the hotel, the library, and the office.” The last of these, borrowed from J. M. Clark (who was on sabbatical), was “enormous,” in contrast to the hotel room, which was “so small that I cannot unpack my things: all I can do here is read.”31 He was warmly welcomed by colleagues. Of the institutional economists, his closest bond was to Goodrich. The latter’s background afforded him a peculiarly nuanced insight into Polanyi’s mindset. He had written his doctoral dissertation, with advice and assistance from Cole, on the inroads made by workers into managerial prerogative in 1910s Britain, the syndicalist upsurge that had brought forth guild socialism, and its published version included a Foreword by Tawney.32 Polanyi’s work also caught the imagination of such anthropologists as


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