To Jakob Marschak (29 January 1941)

From Karl Polanyi
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My dear Marschak,

I need you letters. The subject is important & your views are a great help to me.

I say: There was good international co-operation [on] 'Twenties and its abandonment in the 'Thirties was due (not to stupidity but) to the fact that it now appeared to be hopeless. […]

You bring in original sin, in the wrong place, I fear. It belongs to the institutional nature of human society, for which it fully accounts. But one should not confuse it with a pessimistic psychology of man. He is the hero and self-less whenever conditions allow of an institutional set-up which offers a solution. It is not his fault, if they often {do it}. He is - rightly! - selfish and un-cooperative when they don't. Some times, I agree, a shift in the (independent) intellectual factor may offer a solution where there was none before. […]

I believe that man is rational i.e. able to react to objective conditions incl. those set by society, in such a way as to ensure his {annual} (internal and external) survival, but that society tends to set him insoluble problems in the forms of conflicting institutions. This characteristic of society is not due to any lack of rationality in man. Our present complaints about man - lack of foresight, selfishness - are more modern than we admit and merely reflect the institutional {orsis} in a transitional period. Man loves to be rational and to conform - but what if rationality is dangerous and there is nothing to conform to? As soon as there is a rationalisation on the horizon is reasonably or say reasonable, man clicks in. That's why the urgent and important thing, is to produce a simple and clear i.e. rational picture of a regulated market-system in a plastic society i.e. in a society which attain its self-organization by political means.

The Women's Employment Federation of Gr. Br. has sent a report on my wife's work … […]

Karl Polanyi

Thanks for the Guillebaud (whose book I knew); will look it up at once. Have ordered the little Meade and the little Feis, also W. Brown's new book or the International Gold Standard Reinterpreted, 1941.

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Reference :
KPA: 47/11, 12-13