Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
What we call land is an element of nature inextricably interwoven with man's institu-
tions. To isolate it and form a market out of it was perhaps the weirdest of all under-
takings of our ancestors. (1944, 178)
This dis-embedding of both land and the labor of people who worked the land from
social institutions was the first half of Polanyi's “double movement”—the movement to
encompass more and more social interactions in markets. He analyzed the second half
of the “double movement” as a natural response of societies under stress as a defensive
reaction against market dislocations.
The protection of man, nature, and productive organization amounted to an interfer-
ence with markets for labor and land as well as for the medium of exchange . . . [the]
intervention was to rehabilitate the lives of men and their environment, to give them
some security of status. (1944, 216)
“Society” defends itself, Polanyi argued, from unacceptable market determinations of
life chances by re-embedding outcomes in proper social moorings, hemming in mar-
ket dynamics according to a logic of preexisting societal values. There can then be a
just price for food or for rent on farm land or for work in factories regardless of con-
ditions of supply and demand. Societal responses put limits around market authority.
Tradition then does not disappear as a means of determining outcomes; both reasons
for and forms of public authority depend, in part, on tradition and their political mobi-
lization. The modern welfare state is built on guarantees of security, brakes on extreme
inequality, and de-commodification of that which should not be commoditized—con-
trary to determinations of unfettered markets.8 Modern movements for agrarian reform
and food security likewise begin with the premise that such market-driven outcomes as
hunger and landlessness are unacceptable.9 One sees a similar tension in diagnosis of
the extreme state of hunger: famine. Michael Watts in this volume uses the lens of revis-
iting the Nigerian famine (1967-1970) to question and critique a common technocratic
neo-Malthusian diagnosis:
famine is a function of imperfect markets which are weak, unintegrated and possibly
driven by speculative or hoarding behavior. Collectively these market pathologies
drive up food prices beyond the capacity (of some) to buy. The International Food
and Policy Research Institute's (IFPRI) synthetic work on African famines is a case
in point. . . . Famine is largely seen in technocratic terms—a function of institutional,
organizational and policy failures—which is to say famine is a poverty problem
rooted in poor economic performance and failed or weak states.
This market failure diagnosis is contrasted by Watts with an alternative diagnosis rooted
in Polanyi's view of traditional mechanisms of the “moral economy”10:
At the same time, local protection systems rooted in the moral economy of the com-
munity were rapidly eroding, exposing peasants to the vicissitudes of the market.
These diagnoses of famine come from different knowledge traditions and produce
divergent policy logics of what to do. This contingency of ethical reasoning on empirical
Search WWH ::

Custom Search