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Cover Poverty and Development

26. Returning to the ‘Great Transformation’  

John Harriss

This chapter recounts how Karl Polanyi developed an explanation for the rise of fascism and for the world crisis of the mid-twentieth century. In doing so, he elaborated a profound critique of the kind of thinking about economic development — described as 'market fundamentalism' and commonly referred to as neoliberalism. In the early twenty-first century, neoliberal economic policies, together with the implications of rapid technological change, have caused a crisis, comparable with that analysed by Polanyi, in which social, environmental, and financial problems are interwoven, and to which the rise of authoritarian populism is one response. The Covid-19 outbreak has further exposed the unsustainability of the global system of market fundamentalism and may point to another 'great transformation'. It is possible that a combination of worldwide movements against inequality and environmental degradation with local struggles for citizenship, economic and social rights, and environmental justice among the masses in major 'emerging economies', such as India, can provide a platform for a social democratic alternative.