Decommodification

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Discussion

Seth Ackerman:

" Polanyi argued that liberal capitalism had always been pushed forward by a drive to turn everything into a commodity. Because it required that production be “organized through a self-regulating mechanism of barter and exchange,” it demanded that “man and nature must be brought into its orbit; they must be subject to supply and demand, that is, be dealt with as commodities, as goods produced for sale.”

But that commodifying drive had always produced its dialectical opposite, a countermovement from society below, seeking decommodification. Thus, Polanyi’s double movement was “the action of two organizing principles in society, each of them setting itself specific institutional aims, having the support of definite social forces and using its own distinctive methods”:

The one was the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market, relying on the support of the trading classes, and using largely laissez-faire and free trade as its methods; the other was the principle of social protection aiming at the conservation of man and nature as well as productive organization, relying on the varying support of those most immediately affected by the deleterious action of the market – primarily, but not exclusively, the working and the landed classes – and using protective legislation, restrictive associations, and other instruments of intervention as its methods.

After the Second World War, the pressure of the countermovement made decommodification the unacknowledged motor of domestic politics throughout the industrialized world. Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision." (http://jacobinmag.com/2012/12/the-red-and-the-black/)