Marx's and Polanyi's Perspectives on 21st-Century

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Karl Marx's and Polanyi's Perspectives on 21st-Century Development
The twenty-first century has seen tremendous economic growth around the world. Consumerization (the purchase of services and goods) has increased during this period, as globalization has resulted from significant technological advancements. Furthermore, the private sector has experienced exponential growth in the twenty-first century, resulting in an overall rise in global output levels. Sociologists such as Marx and Polanyi predicted that certain factors such as class conflicts and political intervention would hurt economic growth in the modern world based on their extensive research. An analysis of these scholars’ works proves that indeed their projections have come to pass since some of their views – such as an increase in the growth of the private enterprises - are some of the notable changes taking place in the current times. Nonetheless, a cross-examination of these sociologists’ views proves that Polanyi had more relevant teachings about the present-day society than Marx as he based his analysis on some factors such as financial crisis that limit global development.

Marx’s Views on 21st Development

Karl Marx is a renowned sociologist due to his works on politics, society, and economics. He projected that societies develop as a result of the class struggles, which exists between the bourgeoisie (who are in charge of the factors of production) and the laborers (the proletariats) (Uchinda, . Marx also proposed that the emergence of the political economy would also affect the nature of development in the society (Cockshott, 2007). Marx referred to this occurrence as the emergence of a Communist Party.

The modern day developments are usually achieved as a result of the joint coordination by the government and the private sector trough a process that is commonly referred to as a private-public partnership (PPP). Marx observed that in future there would emerge a political economy that would play a significant role in the enhancement of development. Marx was of the opinion that the political economy would be responsible for regulating social relations, determining the objectives of the social institutions, as well as outlining the favorable process of the state intervention in development matters (Fine, Lapavitsas & Pincus, 2003). Marx’s speculation was correct since the nature of development in a nation is not only anchored on the social forces (the people’s willingness to have a given project implemented) but also relies on the goodwill of its political figures.

The present day societies are also marred with various cases of strikes, which emanate from protests that are ignited by workers as they air out their grievances and concerns (Sunkara, 2013). Marx also observed that capitalism would be a major characteristic of the future societies, whereby the private sectors (the owners of the factors of production) will try to exploit the workers – proletariats so as to earn marginal benefits in their production process (Shaikh, 2014). As a result the gap between the poor and the rich would be on an increasing trend (Tetsuzo, 2006). However, the proletariats would seek all favorable means of countering the exploitation (Karat, 2011), hence, resulting to class conflicts. The political economy – the classical political economy would also play a major role in the capitalistic society as the state would use its law enforcement officers and the justice system to curb the class conflicts (McMahon & McDonough, 2015). Marx’s assertion of the use of the state resources in reducing class conflicts is also evident in the present-day societies; the courts have played a key role in solving any dispute between the employers and their employees (such disputes are usually as a result of the employees’ demands for a salary increment). Additionally, various states have used their police officers to disperse workers as they hold demonstrations to demand better salaries.

Polanyi’s Views on 21st Development

Karl Polanyi’s sociological thoughts, which are presented in the book ‘The Great Transformation,’ are considered to be very significant in social sciences. In addition, the ideas he has articulated in the book ‘The Great Transformation’ are considered to be quite evident in the contemporary society due to their insight on some occurrences such as the great depression (Thomasberger, 2012). Polanyi was of the opinion that development in the 21st century would be adversely affected by political influence in the free market mechanism and the interference with the global financial exchange rate.

A laissez-faire mechanism does not control the modern day economic strategies but instead, they are politically engineered (Block, 2008). Polanyi observed that the markets in economies do not occur naturally or spontaneously but rather they are political projects that are implemented by making changes in the social institutions (Skocpol, 1984). Polanyi argued that such changes led to the occurrence of ‘fictitious commodities’ such as money, land, and labor (Polanyi & Polanyi, 2001). Additionally, Polanyi pointed out that distribution and production activities are governed by some well politically formulated techniques, for instance, reciprocity and redistribution. According to Polanyi, such measures have been put in place since letting the forces of demand and supply control the economy would no doubt result to inequalities. He noted that allowing the market mechanism to control the fate of people and more so their purchasing power would lead to the ‘demolition of society’ (Skocpol, 1984). Therefore, there is a need for some legislative policies to be put in place so as to reduce the occurrence of the likely inequalities; such policies include the redistribution of resources.

The global financial system is also strictly controlled by the states, which is deemed as a measure of making sure that the global economic situation is well monitored. However, it has been fluctuating every now and then due to various factors such as the aptness of the investors (Bandeji, Shorette & Sowers, 2011). Initially, the gold standard system of maintaining the global foreign exchanges had been adopted, but most states preferred the flexible exchange rate system (Bugra & Agartan, 2007). Though the flexible exchange system was deemed as an adequate self-regulating measure, it has been incapable of preventing a financial crisis as it would be expected. The policy makers viewed the flexible exchange rate system as a favorable means of keeping the global financial system under control. However, evidence suggests that the system is always inconsistent due to factors such as the expectations of investors (which influence the investment patterns), which justifies Polanyi’s assertion that markets can perform better if not subjected to any principles (Hart, 2009). Besides, most law makers also double up as investors and, hence, it is rational they can try to influence the current foreign exchange rate so as to reap more benefits in future (when they anticipate that the rate would be higher). The 2008 global economic crisis proves that the flexible exchange rate is not fully capable of ensuring a stable financial market globally.

Comparison between Marx and Polanyi

The arguments above prove that the sociological thoughts of these scholars are still relevant update. They both agree that the present day economic developments are designed in such a way that they yield the policy makers’ expected results. The political influence in the determination of how things are run in the society has resulted in far-reaching consequences since some the policies are not implemented on the basis of the equal welfare of all the societal members. The analysis above also points out that Polanyi’s sociological thoughts offer more detailed analysis of the development during the twenty-first century. Unlike Marx who largely bases his arguments on the class conflicts (Bell & Cleaver, 2002), Polanyi clearly demonstrates the major factor behind any development projects in the society is anchored on its political good will. He notes that the investors usually base their investment decisions after analyzing the current foreign exchange so as to maximize their gains (Hodgson, 2017). In case they anticipate that the rates will be better in future, then they postpone the implementation of any current projects, which adversely affects economic development. Polanyi also argues that the political interference in the free market system has had adverse effects on the society’s development level as some investors may fail to invest as they feel that the proposed project would not yield the expected results due to interference from the government (Castles, Cubas, Kim, Koleth, Ozkul & Williamson, 2011). He notes that this trend is the major cause of the global financial crisis.


In a nutshell, the sociological contributions of Polanyi and Marx cannot be underestimated. Bothe of them clearly predicted that development in the 21st century would be largely affected by the political economy. Marx argues that some of the projects in the modern societies have been successful as a result of the joint contribution of the governments and the political class. He also points out that workers have also been denied their rights as a result of the political interference (for instance through the judiciary and the security personnel). On the other hand, Polanyi argues that the policymakers affect the developments in the society by influencing the market forces as well as manipulating the foreign exchange system. A cross-examination of the ideas presented by these scholars reveals that Polanyi’s sociological thoughts have more details regarding development in the modern world. Apart from demonstrating the policies (such as redistribution policies) that present day governments adopt so as to boost individual development of the societal members, He also cites some of the factors that might negatively affect global development, for instance the 2008 global economic crisis, which are also as a result of the political influence in the proper running of the society.


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September 21, 2021

Political Science

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Globalization Karl Marx

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