Project 190 - The Origins of Economic Institutions (1957)

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(A) [102] I am engaged in an attempt to work out an improved approach to the … […] Trade and Market in the Early Empires, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill. (1957), contains chapters illustrating some of the results up to date. 'The two meanings of economic'[1], 'Forms of trade in the Ancient Near East' and 'Aristotle discovers the economy', are by myself. Other chapters, written almost without exception by former students of mine on ports-of-trade in the Eastern Mediterranean; Aztec-Maya trade; Berber markets; the Indian village community; the oikos controversy; and the surplus problem offer further indication of the procedure followed and the knowledge attained.

The object of the present Project is to extend these efforts from trade and market into the sphere of money. What chiefly appears to be lacking here is an understanding both of the channels by which the various money-uses – payment, standard and exchange – have their effects on the social tissue, and of the factors of growth involved.

The object of the present Project is to extend these efforts from trade and market into the sphere of money. […]

The method remains […] Fundamental to it is the interpretation of the term 'economic' in the substantive, or material, sense alongside of its formal meaning of 'economical' or 'economizing', introducing this latter meaning into the framework of [103] the former. The approach is, therefore, noways identical with that of Max Weber who discounted the value of anthropology for economic history, nor with that of the German School or the American institutionalists. All these attempted more or less to transcend, if not to ignore, formal economics while not having at their disposal any alternative system on which to rely. I was aiming at a comprehensive presentation of economies in societies, which would comprise the achievement of economic analysis. To this end a concept of livelihood was required, based on a substantive meaning of 'economic' relevant to all types of societies. In this I was following the example of Carl Menger whose posthumous formulations (1923) deliberately left room for such an endeavour but have, unfortunately, been disregarded by the broad stream of historiographers of modern economic doctrines.

It is surely […]

The crucial question […]

Out of such a re-appraisal of the Babylonian economy two sets of problems […]

The question of the actual organization of the Babylonian economy underlies Professor A.L. Oppenheim's chapter in Trade and Market. He links the absence of market places (pp. 29, 30-1)[2] with the role of redistribution and equivalencies in Old Babylonia. This marks a significant step on the direction of some of my [104] fundamental assumptions.

The answer to the second – […] Aristotle

Editor's Notes

  1. Problem: this is the name of the draft article, but not in the final text: “The Economy as Instituted Process”. Identically, “Forms of trade in the Ancient Near East” doesn't exist but “Marketless Trading in Hammurabi's Theme”. So, Polanyi wrote this text before the publication of Trade and Market… So, it should be 1955, 1956 or 1957. Other point: Project #190 ends in 1953, to evolved in the Council of Research in Social Sciences. Every (other) documents in the file 31/15, are dated between 1947 and 1953, but how Polanyi knows he will published Trade and Market in 1957, with some true pages in his text? (Santiago Pinault)
  2. These pages are the good ones. (Santiago Pinault)

Text Informations

KPA: 31/15, 101-104 or 34/02, 76-81
Other language: Projet 190 - Les origines des institutions économiques (1957)