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English Football’s Polanyian Moment – The ESL

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English Football’s Polanyian Moment – The European Super League

Elite European football has long been commodified and progressively disembedded from its historic roots as a working class sport. In the UK a countermovement to this piecemeal disembedding has been sporadic and generally unsuccessful. The countermovement against the ESL in contrast was spontaneous, large-scale and apparently highly successful. A piece by Rowan Alcock.

April 25th, 2021

Rowan Alcock

Football has become an opiate for masses of people around the world, with irrational highs and more frequent lows. In Europe seasons can secure hundreds of millions of pounds and the chance of playing with the European elite, coupled with the possibility of spiralling down the leagues and potential bankruptcy. But for many, football is much more than that. Clubs are part of the local community, often with a heritage of over 100 years, they contribute to an individual’s collective identity (1) and clubs and fans often work within their community in a charitable capacity. In a society such as the UK, which has had a political project of undermining collective power for decades, football fans maintain a camaraderie which allows them to mobilise when their club, and therefore local community, is threatened. It was this mass-mobilisation that we witnessed in the latest episode of football’s multi-billion dollar soap opera – the European Super League.

Clearly there are numerous concurrent crises global society is facing, and one might argue the machinations of a sport where over-paid players run around at the behest of over-paid executives and billionaire owners is something that deserves little attention. However the 72 hour saga of the European Super League (ESL) can be seen as a Polanyian moment and highlights numerous Polanyian tropes with wider lessons for society. The ESL was concocted by the owners of eleven elite and highly decorated European football clubs as well as Tottenham Hotspur. Its aim was to create a league in which the twelve founding members (2) could never be relegated therefore securing them as long-term high-value financial assets. The model was said to be based on the American sports franchising model. Elite European football has long been commodified and progressively disembedded from its historic roots as a working class sport. In the UK a countermovement to this piecemeal disembedding has been sporadic and generally unsuccessful. The countermovement against the ESL in contrast was spontaneous, large-scale and apparently highly successful.

As Polanyi would have observed, ‘intellectual fashion played no role whatever’ (3) in the countermovement which united the opinions of politicians from across the political spectrum. From the socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the right-wing populist Victor Orbán, as well as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a politician immensely comfortable with ‘greed and capitalism’, (4) and Sir Keir Starmer, a politician immensely comfortable sitting on the fence, they all outwardly agreed that the ESL was a step too far.

Political ideology did not unite the countermovement, yet politics was everywhere. The manager of Liverpool Football Club, Jürgen Klopp, in his defence against accusations being levelled at Liverpool players, stumbled into a truth at the heart of most economic organisations – the general lack of worker democracy. The players and the management team were not consulted over the ESL ‘just like all employees’ (5), it was not their decision. More directly Leeds United manager, Marcelo Bielsa, argued, in terms that could have been spoken by Polanyi himself, that ‘the fundamental problem is the rich always aspire to be more rich without considering the consequences for the rest. As they gain more power they start demanding more privilege over the rest’ (6). Fans ran with numerous slogans including ‘Created By the Poor, Stolen By The Rich’.

These spontaneous moments that have the potential to create the foundations of a progressive politics were coupled and often interwoven with spontaneous reactions that could create the foundations of a reactionary politics – demonstrating Polanyi’s view that the countermovement always has two faces. Rio Ferdinand declared that ‘this is for me a war on football’ (7). Garry Nevil stated it was ‘a criminal act against football fans in this country, make no mistake about it’ and that the owners are ‘imposters’ they ‘are nothing to do with football in this country’ (8) the fans ‘need protecting’ and owners have ‘no loyalty to this country and these leagues’ ‘there isn’t a football fan in this country that won’t be seething, and shouldn’t be seething’ (9). James Cordon during his diatribe on the ESL posited the argument that the billionaire owners have ‘slowly but surely’ moved these teams away from the working-class foundations on which they were built, or in Polanyian terms have disembedded them from the local community, and that they ‘look at the historical fanbase of every single club with disdain’. His solution to the powerlessness of fans and the belief that ‘I don’t think we can do anything about it’ was to ‘remember the names of these owners… don’t forget the people that did this, it’s them it’s those owners… they took something so pure and so beautiful and they beat the love and the joy out of it’ (10).

But remember for what ends? A progressive remembers in order to create a mass movement to democratically change society for the betterment of the whole of society. However, in the current system in which billionaires have disembedded themselves from social norms and democratic accountability, to what ends do we remember? Often these ends are reactionary. This is Polanyi’s countermovement at work, spontaneously erupting due to a move to transform a social institution into a commodity for private profit, with two solutions – one progressive and one reactionary.

The ESL did come crumbling down in England after just 72 hours thanks to sustained pressure from almost every corner of English football; fans, managers, players, pundits… However, many believe it is only a matter of time before something similar will raise its head. In fact it was reported that UEFA’s solution to the greed of the ESL was even more debt fuelled money pumped into their own competitions (11). Another option proposed has been a new football regulator (12), however, if similar to other regulators in the UK, it is likely to be toothless, under resourced and captured by special interests. A government that wants ‘to do as little as it has to do’, according to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (13), is never going to solve deep structural problems. A better solution may, however, be presented by the German league, whose teams were not part of the initial 12 ESL founding members. The 50 +1 model, which guarantees a majority stake in football clubs in Germany for fans, could be the start of re-embedding football back into the communities it was born out of. Yet this is fraught with difficulties and as the popular wave of discontent towards the ESL subsides, due to its collapse, the Government is likely to brush any significant changes aside to concentrate on whatever new populist crusade arises, churning out faux victories while nothing significantly changes.

If the ESL had gone ahead, it is almost inevitable the German sides would have sold their souls and joined; the alternative would have been for them to forgo hundreds of millions of euro a year and become uncompetitive on the European stage. This demonstrates another Polanyian theme, islands of democracy are meaningless in the global oceans of the self-regulating market. Unless there are bridges linking islands of democracy, from the workplace, to the local community through to continents of democratic participation, democracy is unable to stand up to the tsunami of global financial capitalism. The message Polanyi clearly articulates is; unless all of us are protected from the negative social effects of the self-regulating market system then none of us are protected and that protection can only come from a deep and broad democratic society. Football becomes as important a place to embed within democratic norms as housing, labour, health and all systems we rely on for our social well-being. A democratic sphere of football can create a logic of democratic participation in society, protect other democratic institutions and may even become a model for more. Football may, importantly, also be a space that has a ready-made and hard to undermine mass-movement prepared to argue, and take to the streets, for radical changes, a movement that has the ear of national leaders. The Polanyian task is the same with this spontaneous countermovement as it is with all, to push it away from any form of reactionary politics and towards progressive solutions. Even though the ESL has crumbled there is still much more to play for.

1 Of course it must be stated that this collective identity can also have a darker tone of sectarian or racist othering and football fans’ hooliganism is well documented.
2 Founding member spots were also potentially available for three more clubs from France and Germany.
3 Polanyi, 2001 [1944], p.151.
4 Allegretti & Elgot, 2021, Covid: ‘greed’ and capitalism behind vaccine success, Johnson tells MPs, The Guardian, johnson-tells-mps
6 elland-road-964141
8 Alan Shearer similarly suggested that the owners ‘are clearly removed from the heritage’ of the Premier League and its predecessor ‘they don’t have any sense of value of the clubs relationship with the fans and the communities’.
11 league
13 Ibid

Rowan Alcock

is a recent Oxford DPhil graduate in politics. His thesis engaged with Polanyian theory to analyse Chinese food and environmental movements. He has published articles on Polanyi including a recent publication in New Political Economy entitled The Unconscious Countermovement and the Conscious Polanyian Movement.

Polanyi in the US

Polanyi all over the World

History, Once More, in the Gear of Social Change

In this fourth part of our series 'Polanyi all over the world', David Bond and John Hultgren took some time to review 'The Great Transformation at 75', probably the first major Polanyi conference held in the US in October 2019. In their essay, Bond and Hultgren elaborate on the three main issues that came up again and again during the conference: fascism, democracy and the climate - and thus draw a bigger picture of the multiple crises happening in the US today.

30th of June, 2020


David Bond and John Hultgren 

In October 2019, Bennington College in Vermont, USA, organized a conference entitled “The Great Transformation at 75” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Karl Polanyi’s magnum opus. It was the first major Karl Polanyi conference in the United States to bring together scholars from all around the world, all of whom gathered in this small town where Polanyi found intellectual sanctuary while writing The Great Transformation.

In 1940, as recession, racism, and totalitarian rule metastasized into worldwide terror, Bennington College announced it would devote its annual lecture fund to supporting endangered scholars fleeing the rise of fascist Europe. Through the serendipitous intervention of Peter Drucker, Karl Polanyi soon arrived on campus as an honorary fellow of the college. It was here, amid the rolling hills, meandering roads, harsh winters, and warm conviviality of rural Vermont, that Polanyi found the time to pull together scattered lines of inquiry into his prescient masterpiece The Great Transformation.

To mark the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its publication, this past October Bennington College brought together scholars and journalists from around the world to reflect on how Polanyi’s magnum opus might help us to understand the worsening condition of the contemporary. The last few years have witnessed the advance of fiercely anti-democratic forces, economies shedding any figment of generalized prosperity, eruptions of parochial hatred and insurgent racisms, the forced displacement of millions, and deepening ecological instability as the uneven impacts of climate change intensify. For three days, we gathered in seminar rooms, dining halls, and walks across the campus Polanyi called home to reflect upon the discordant timeliness of The Great Transformation today. With generosity of thought, spirited debates, and a growing sense that that present is being stretched past its breaking point, we discussed how the insights of The Great Transformation might sharpen our engagements with our fractured world, both to better grasp the cascading forces that enliven human inequity today and to chart ways past them.

Surely, we are living in an age of upheaval once more. Yet our conversation turned to Polanyi’s work less as a blueprint for explaining our present turmoil than as a potent set of concepts that help clarify the specificity of our contemporary crisis. The Great Transformation, as Robert Kuttner reminded us, is not scripture. And it was in the gaps between Polanyi’s terminal diagnosis of his time and our own inhospitable condition that some of our richest conversations took shape, whether around the necessity of incorporating capitalism, as Nancy Fraser insisted, or the necessity of foregrounding ecological crisis, as James Scott retorted. Polanyi always believed society would eventually act to save itself, Michael Burawoy said at one point; today, such survival cannot be presumed. Over the course of the conference, three themes emerged that now anchor this essay: 1) the origins and geography of resurging fascism; 2) the tactics and reach of reinvigorated democratic practice; and 3) the potential form and purpose of eco-socialist responses to the climate crisis.

The Great Transformation insists that fascism is a global phenomenon, forged in the fires of international finance and geopolitics. But it was the inability of democratic institutions to join with popular pressures against marketization that formed the soil within which each instance of fascism took root. Against a backdrop of lived subtractions and foreclosed horizons, authoritarian rule once more surges to the helm. While Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orban, Duterte, El-Sisi, and Trump are frequently explained by provincial problems and national resignation, is there an underlying thread that ties these instances together? What wider webs of misery now snag democratic vitality and entice brutality from above? While some participants turned to the disruptive terrain of globalism and the preemptive tyranny of financial institutions as the key update to Polanyi’s theory of fascism, others brought attention to how militarized violence cleaves populations from social legibility, how progressive identarian critique has hollowed out the terrain of human values, and how climate change shifts our primary register of induced precarity from financial networks to ecological systems.

While widening the focus beyond the nation, Polanyi also insisted we not give too much credence to the fascist militants who first seized power. The Great Transformation carries that startling insight of the 1930s: fascism was not a revolutionary seizure of power but a palace coup. Wary of a socialist reckoning rising in the winds of popular dissent, German business and party leaders readily handed the keys to the statehouse over to a ragtag bunch of militants. In a calculation that still resonates, elites found the burlesque brutalities of fascism more reassuring than reinvigorated democracy. Sound familiar? Even as the corruption and savagery of the Trump Administration comes to ever more light, Trump’s fundraising continues to break records, and relatively few CEO’s have publicly criticized him, as Fred Block noted. In the US, we have to wonder if white nationalist rallies and self-appointed militias should be better understood as a dress rehearsal of what Polanyi called “the sham rebellion” of fascism rather than a broad grassroots revolt against democracy. Indeed, many commentators overlook the well-heeled coalition of evangelicals and shareholders that stand behind Trump, instead explaining our lurch into authoritarianism by way of a clown car of adolescent grievances that appears to be leading the neo-fascist parade. But who is paving the way?


Democracy is under siege. Whether in exempting amassed money from democratic accountability, in widening the reach of executive prerogative, in criminalizing expressions of popular sovereignty, or in tactically restricting access to the ballot, the institutions and practices of democracy are battered from all sides. So much of this echoes themes in The Great Transformation, where Polanyi diagnoses an “anti-democratic virus” endemic to the industrial state. Yet across the US and Europe, capital left the factory for dead decades ago. While still coloring policy prescriptions and the conceptual iconography of class, industrialism is largely a thing of the past in so much of the US and Europe. Where, then, does the contemporary virulence of anti-democratic forces come from?

The legitimacy crisis faced by democratic states is in no small part a product of global institutions in which free-market policy prescriptions are deeply entrenched. Greta Krippner, Claus Thomasburger, and Shaina Potts reminded us that international financial institutions continue to take great pains to insulate economics from politics, and both from democratic pressures. With neoliberal reforms constitutionally enshrined in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and myriad free trade agreements, what recourse do democratic publics have to resisting the tired triumvirate of austerity, privatization, and deregulation? While radical cosmopolitan sensibilities increasingly permeate left movements, the institutional venues for demanding socialist (or even social democratic) reforms at a global scale remain altogether absent. Robert Kuttner asked: Can democracy survive global capitalism?

The fallout from decades of neoliberalization is acutely felt at home, where shuttered storefronts line Main Street, where work is shattered into pieces (none adequate to build a life), where dreams of ownership are cast aside as rents rise, and where the toxic aftermath of industrial pasts darkens and dampens collective aspiration. Distrust in the system is at an all-time high, and anger refuses the compromised ideologies and platforms of party politics. In these conditions, forms of what Sheldon Wolin calls “fugitive democracy” remain; for example, in the activism of care workers examined by Brigitte Aulenbacher and the solidarity economy movement highlighted by Marguerite Mendell. And yet, much of this democratic ferment unfolds in places of some privilege, at scales below the state and outside the corridors of accumulation. Perhaps we need to re-center democracy around distribution, as Margaret Somers suggested, to confront the profitable basis of our disorder more directly. Or perhaps local struggles over habitation, as Fred Block described, can provide a new basis of progressive politics beyond archaic institutions unable to reign in circuits of capital. From the reallocations of goods or the possibilities of care, our discussion explored the pathways that might pull the capacities of the state into a more principled taming of the market. Whether these political stirrings prefigure new Red Vienna’s or represent the ghost dance of a dying demos, our discussions of democracy were inseparable from considerations of socialism.


For one weekend in Vermont, the necessity of a radical socialist transformation was the default political position in regards to climate change. In true Polanyian fashion, this was not a promethean socialism, where economic growth and technological progress co-exist as hallowed solutions to distributional struggles; but, rather, an eco-socialism where the plausibility of continual economic growth in the midst of ecological crisis must be questioned. At the center of our debate lay the Green New Deal, a bold policy aimed at reasserting democratic control over the economy by bending its capacities towards the production of environmental goods and creating decent jobs in the process. For Kate Aronoff, the Green New Deal is far preferable to market-based reforms like carbon taxes or cap and trade programs whose moderate tone covers over their broken logic: adapting to the crisis of fossil capitalism by drawing nature even further into the casino economy. Gareth Dale cautioned, however, that a Green New Deal, as currently conceived, continues the conceit that we can maintain infinite economic growth on an ecologically finite planet. Referencing the near universal expectation of meat and petrol as the basis of the good life, Andreas Novy asked how a Green New Deal can be implemented in a way that doesn’t reinforce what Brand and Wissen term the “imperial mode of living”?

The lessons of the original New Deal are instructive in this regard. Many Polanyi scholars look to the post-war moment — the durable legacy of the New Deal and the social programs of the Labor Party in England – as the best example of what taming the market consists of in policy (despite Polanyi’s own disappointment about what unfolded in the US and UK after World War II). In light of our present ecological crisis, it is worth reconsidering if the broad post-war prosperity experienced in the US and western Europe was the result of democracy reining in capitalism, or of the engine of capitalism shifting from exploited (domestic) labor to extracted (foreign) nature. While labor successfully negotiated a pathway into middle class lifestyles for workers, and national institutions held back the most spectacular excesses of capital, the economies became newly attentive to, and dependent upon, a massive influx of coerced resources from abroad. The compromise of the industrial welfare state was an agreement, in no small part, bankrolled by Nature from elsewhere.

Mindful of this history, there existed widespread agreement that the Green New Deal must be internationalist in scope, tackle the problem of unequal ecological exchange, and figure out ways to confront an international institutional infrastructure in which markets remain sacrosanct.


A New Age of Upheaval
Kari Polanyi-Levitt closed the conference by walking us through the personal and historical disruptions that converged in the writing of The Great Transformation, and how prescient Polanyi’s emphasis on upheaval has proven to be. And even as we took stock of this new age of upheaval we had no idea of what lay ahead: a global pandemic that, in a matter of weeks, infected every inhabitable corner of the globe. COVID-19 appears a species level event that has catapulted the vulnerabilities and values of humanity itself to the forefront of policy considerations worldwide, though the lesson so far seems to be dismally familiar: distribute suffering downward rather than face-up to the great transformation needed to lift us all up, together.

The world’s poor will surely bear the brunt of this pandemic in the long run, but in the short-term COVID-19 has pricked the swagger of superpowers. The United States has found its sizable fiscal and militarized grasp on the world wholly inadequate to the task of taming this virus. Although it has now shelled out trillions of dollars to stabilize corporate bottom lines, by most human measures the US is a failed state. In this maelstrom – with the economic free-fall and pandemic purgatory that falls hardest on the poor and racial minorities – yet another overt act of racial violence has galvanized a widespread uprising. These past few weeks have witnessed protests that both seize upon and exceed the dilemmas of the pandemic, protests that provide an outlet for both longstanding racial injustice and newfound despair. On the one side, a newly energized movement for racial justice demands the defunding and/or abolition of police, the empowerment of local communities, and, above all, the basic right to breathe – a right threatened by the indiscriminate use of violence, environmental injustice, and inequitable access to healthcare. On the other side lies the demographic and ideological remnants of American conservatism, where the edifice of market fundamentalism is so strong that, even in the face of a pandemic, begging for the freedom to work and the right not to wear masks makes more sense than calling upon the state to provide ample monetary assistance and adequate healthcare. The resonance of this neoliberal reaction is narrow enough, though, that the Right has fallen back onto the only iron-clad ideological tenet of Trumpism: white supremacy.

Worldwide, dissent and despair now gather again on the knife’s edge between the ease of authoritarian certainty and the work of socialist transformation. It may be premature to declare that twentieth century civilization has collapsed, but there is little doubt that history, once more, is in the gear of social change.

David Bond

Associate Director of CAPA
(Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Bennington College
Vermont, USA

John Hultgren

Faculty of Society, Culture & Thought and Faculty of Environmental Studies, Bennington College
Vermont, USA

More ‘Polanyi all over the World’:

Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.
Edward Webster on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 19th of October.
Chikako Nakayama on the importance for Polanyi’s work in Japan. 5th of September.
Nils Brandsma on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Sweden. 31st of July.
David Bond and John Hultgren on the importance of Polanyi’s work in the US. 30th of June.
Attila Melegh on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Hungary. 30th of May.
Claire Baker and Alan Scott on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Australia. 25th of April.
Patricia Villen and Bruno de Conti on the importance of Polanyi’s work in Brazil and Latin America. 25th of March.

Stock Exchange Board

Claus Thomasberger: Putting the economy in its place!


Peaceful coexistence and personal freedom are at risk. Both within and between countries tensions are already growing. Democratic achievements are under attack. “The end of history” proclaimed after the fall of the Berlin Wall has proven a fallacious promise. While average wellbeing has risen in economic terms, for a large and increasing number of people the prospects for a good and meaningful life are threatened. At the heart of these contradictory tendencies is a political vision that turns the entire society into a replica of the market economy.

Polanyi’s oeuvre provides us with a unique analytical framework, concepts and ideas to study the contradictions of a social fabric in which the social relationships are increasingly embedded in the economic system. Is it possible, we ask ourselves, that the conflicts, which accompanied the economic, social and political transformation of European societies in the 19th century and led to two world wars, the Great Depression and totalitarian regimes in the first half of the 20th century, are now affecting much vaster parts of the world and larger populations. Even if history is far from being repeated, we are convinced that Polanyi highlights three crucial issues that will shape our future:


Up to now, freedom for all, not only for the few, has been an ambiguous promise on the part of classical as well as neoliberalism. Freedoms, which we cherish for their own sake – freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association – have been accompanied by freedoms, which were harmful to the majority of common people – the freedom to exploit one’s fellows or the freedom to make excessive gains without commensurable service to the community. Today, once again, some of the freedoms that we esteem so much are under serious threat.

Polanyi’s writings offer a critique of the liberal idea of freedom and an alternative concept of social (solidarity, democratic and substantial) freedom that allows us to address the ambiguity. Polanyi’s central thesis is that the liberal notion, equating freedom with contractual relations, is illusory because it absolutizes the individual at the expense of the reality of society. The assertion that only unfettered markets guarantee freedom misdirects thoughts and judgements. If freedom means, as the liberal concept presupposes, that the individual only has to consider the consequences, “which are within his range of foresight” (Hayek: The Constitution of Liberty [2011], 146), who then bears the responsibility for the outcomes that the individual cannot be presumed to judge? Who accounts for unemployment, for humiliation and indignity, for economic crises, for the distribution of income and wealth? Who is responsible for climate change and the extinction of species? How could CO2-emissions be limited if decision-makers were ultimately accountable to shareholders? An idea of freedom that neglects the reality of the social and environmental consequences of our actions must be invalid.

If in a complex society no human decision is completely without social consequences, the notion of freedom cannot neglect the reality of society. On the one hand, the worldwide division of labor connects each individual choice through invisible bands with his fellow humans and, on the other hand, it hampers overview and awareness. The insight that “where there is no overview there is no freedom because without knowledge there can be no choice” (Polanyi: On Freedom, in Karl Polanyi’s Vision of a Socialist Transformation [2018], 312) is crucial for his thinking. Social freedom calls for deepening awareness of social connectedness through new forms of democracy, education and social control. Freedom for all requires empowering common people to contribute to the decisions that have hitherto been in the hands of the economic and political elites.


“The nineteenth century gave birth to two sets of events of a very different order of magnitude: the machine age, a development of millennial range; and the market system, an initial adjustment to that development” (Polanyi: The Livelihood of Man, in Economy and Society [2018], 255). While in human history, the Industrial Revolution is comparable in terms of impact on society only to the Neolithic Revolution (i. e. the invention and diffusion of farming and settlement), liberal capitalism is no more than a historically rather limited period, a first attempt to cope with the implications of large-scale machines, mass production and an expanding division of labor.

We do not know where technological progress is going to take us. If we agree with Polanyi that the machine age “cannot, will not, and indeed, should not, be voluntarily discarded, the task of adapting life in such a surrounding to the requirements of human existence must be resolved if man is to continue on earth” (Polanyi: Our Obsolete Market Mentality, in Economy and Society [2018], 198). Economic liberalism sketches technological progress as part of the natural advancement of humankind. It is blind to the fact that behind the economic and social problems of the market society there loom the challenges of an industrial civilization that has already developed the instruments for self-destruction. In fact, the development of new technologies and their application are largely a consequence of military ambitions and the decisions of profit-oriented companies operating in a competitive environment. In Polanyi’s times, this resulted in the invention of the nuclear bomb and mass media. Today we have to face an apparently insatiable hunger for energy and new scientific revolutions marked by the mapping of the human genome, genetic manipulation, robotics, drones, the Internet, big data and artificial intelligence. Responding to the challenges of the machine age means, above all, enabling the common people to understand, assess and shape decisions on the future course of technological progress. The dangers inherent in the technological possibilities can only be coped with if societies gain control over the decision-making processes on which human life on this planet depends.


The double movement produced the collapse of European civilization of the 19th century. The search for a truly democratic society is not merely the search for strengthening social protection against the destructive effects of market fundamentalism, but a search for an answer to the challenges of a technological civilization. It presupposes nothing less than a fundamental cultural transformation that substitutes the principles of solidarity, empathy and a “good life for all” for efficiency and economic growth. The culture of individualism, of infinite improvement and the boundless multiplication of material wealth has to give place to real tolerance, in which recognition of differences is based on interest and knowledge of the specific circumstances of life.

Such an alternative first calls for replacing neoliberal “planning for competition” with planning for social freedom and solidarity. Democracy is not only a value, which we cherish for its own sake, but also a precondition for overview and freedom for all. Secondly, the fictitious goods, labor, nature and money, as well as social security, care, education, culture etc., must be freed from the control by the competitive market system. Thirdly, the call for deglobalization does not mean the end of the international division of labor, but the replacement of the “helpless method of free trade” (Polanyi: Common Man’s Masterplan, in Economy and Society [2018], 181) by voluntary agreements between responsible governments. Polanyi’s motto “regional planning instead of universal (or global) capitalism” has lost nothing of its importance. The same holds, fourthly, for Polanyi’s claim for personal freedom, which “must be preserved at all costs, including the price of efficiency in production. … An industrial society can afford to be free” (Polanyi: TGT [2001], 264).

There are (and there can be) no handy answers to the question of how to “put the economy in its place”. We are aware of the fact that social sciences cannot pretend to know what should be done, nor can they decide how it is to be done. They can only act as participants and contribute to shedding light on the possible consequences of alternative choices.