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Title: Economistic fallacies in contemporary capitalism : a Polanyian analysis of regimes of marketised social protection
Author: Holmes, Christopher
ISNI:       0000 0004 2702 327X
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2010
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Karl Polanyi used the notion of economistic fallacy in order to flag up the way in which formal definitions of the economy – rooted in the assumption of economising, self-interested market behaviour – were routinely applied as universal and rational by economists, political scientists, policy makers and in general public discourse. This thesis is a critical re-application of the notion of economistic fallacy in theoretical, historical and contemporary perspective. I argue that, although Polanyi’s broad generalisations are unsuitable for contemporary analysis, the same basic type of fallacy can be observed in various specific policy settings. Roughly speaking, the thesis comprises two halves. In the first, I focus on theoretical matters, arguing for a consideration of Polanyi specifically as a political economist of ideas. This, I argue, gets us closer to some of Polanyi’s most interesting analytical intentions whilst freeing us from some of the apparent ontological contradictions latent in his various texts. From there, I develop Polanyi’s insights on the role of ideas in capitalist development, foregrounding the notion of economistic fallacy as a key conceptual device. In the second half of the thesis, I apply this analysis over three case studies, one on global financial regulation, one on climate change and one on welfare provision in the UK. These areas are chosen as contemporary reflections of the three ‘fictitious commodities’ that Polanyi identified as uniquely important loci of economistically fallacious logics, namely money, land and labour. In each case, I note how specific versions of economistic fallacy have guided policies that aim to deliver forms of social protection via market mechanisms and market actors – what I call ‘marketised social protection’. This is in distinction to the straightforward (often state-led) societal self-protection that Polanyi and latter-day Polanyians have typically focused upon. I argue that the policies discussed are economistically fallacious to the extent that they rely on unrealistic, overly rationalist assumptions about the nature of society, the natural environment and people, respectively. I show instead how the dynamics of capital accumulation that such regimes serve to legitimate and protect – dynamics that I refer to as forms of ‘market self-protection’ – act to continually undermine the success of such policy programmes. This, I argue, is a distinctive tension in the ideational and material landscape of contemporary capitalism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HB Economic Theory