How we used to live together

Jerry —  August 8, 2013 — 5 Comments

We are modern. We see the world through modern eyes, in a modern context. It’s very hard to unlearn that perspective, or even to understand what it means.

From the modernist point of view, a lot of behaviors and institutions from times gone by make no sense at all. If you want to be entertained learning why the strange customs of the British pre-modern aristocracy were actually well suited to their times and contributed directly to a couple hundred years of Rule Britannia, read The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World, by Doug Allen.

That would be entertaining, but not as useful as a reading of The Great Transformation, written by Karl Polanyi in 1944. In the video below, I distill what I got from the book. I’ll offer some comments after it.

The three ways we stayed alive before: householding, reciprocity and redistribution. The three fictitious commodities brought by the industrial revolution: land, labor and money. Poverty, new in 1650; unemployment, new in 1750. The mind boggles.

I’m going to keep creating 5minUs of books that have influenced me, and I encourage you to, as well. Together we might be able to read our way through huge stacks of important works. Contradictions and debate welcome. That’s the point, too.



5 responses to How we used to live together

  1. Maybe you will like this collaboratively written Manifesto

  2. Thanks for the presentation. I like it a lot. I would like to make one critical observation. Polanyi did not really take into account the context of the rise of capitalism, which was the Atlantic and the triangle trade involving Europe, Africa, and America. I don’t think you can understand capitalism without understanding the role of slavery. I have a principle here: If you cannot understand Africa without understanding Europe, you cannot really understand Europe without understanding Africa. The same for Europe and the Americas. I think we need to tell a very different story today than the story Polanyi told, or other Europeans tell as though the European continent and not the Atlantic ocean was the context for early capitalism. Thanks again for a very thoughtful presentation.

  3. Marvin thank you!

    I remember well you telling me about Adam Smith failing to mention slavery, even though his patrons were wealthy on its back. That point was recently hammered home when I met Ned Sublette in Havana (we both spoke at a small conference), then started reading his The American Slave Coast, which I’m halfway through now. Mind blowing. And mostly unknown and unacknowledged US history.

    Could you steer me in your work and others’ to places where the synthesis you describe is made? I’m very interested.

  4. David, thank you for your comment and link! I’d love to talk with you.

    This morning Michel Bauwens joined my REX group for a call. I’ve followed you for some time, as you’ll note in my Brain and added the Communard Manifesto to the Brain version I’m using now, which for software reasons you won’t see at the link I just gave. También crecí en Peru y Argentina :)

  5. Thanks Jerry! It will be a pleasure talking with you… both in English and in Spanish :-)

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