Trade, Employment, and Public Policy:
Michael Polanyi Then and Now

A workshop meeting organized by Anne McCants (MIT) and Eduardo Beira (MIT Portugal Program) and convened in conjunction with the 2017 Polanyi Society Annual Meeting  (Boston).

November 18, 2017 (Saturday), 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
MIT Building E51, Room 095 (
Cambridge, MA, USA.

Flyer (pdf)

Free access to the local meeting, but previous registration by mail ( is expected for logistic reasons and lunch planning
Meeting will be broadcast in real time by video streaming.
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Objective and context

Michael Polanyi published Full Employment and Free Trade in 1945, a book that is now much less widely remembered than his later work in the philosophy of science. The first edition was published in the United Kingdom, with a second edition appearing in 1947. An American edition was published in 1948, with a particularly noteworthy forward by the Harvard economist Professor Gottfried Haberler (1900-1995), who had strongly encouraged the edition. Polanyi had also previously produced a documentary film for educational purposes, the first ever produced on the relatively new subject of macroeconomics. This full-length cartoon and diagrammatic film was released to the public in 1941 as the Second World War was already raging. The movie is an initial strong effort to demonstrate the workings of the money and material flows critical to an understanding of macroeconomics. The film, with subtitles in several languages along with related materials can be found here: Polanyi was looking for a “suitable method of presentation” of Keynes’ new macroeconomics framework. In his introduction to the book he says “my whole introduction to the Keynesian mechanism is based on my experience with my film audiences”. The book deals with the dynamics of the monetary flow in modern economies and offered an early introduction to the concepts later organized around the well known “monetary circulation diagrams” in macroeconomics textbooks. 

Full Employment and Free Trade explores ways to stabilize the “booms and slumps” dynamic characteristic of liberal capitalism through management of the flows of money in circulation through a variety of public policy instruments. These include the capacity of a central bank to increase the money supply or other expansionary measures targeted to maintain a stable high level of employment, a crucial concern after the difficult years of depression in the decade before WWII. Indeed, Polanyi anticipates in his book many of the most pressing monetary concerns and discussions of later decades.
More than 70 years later, the main concerns of the book are again present with renewed vigor and the originality and importance of his thought gains a new relevance, when unemployment, austerity measures (in Europe and elsewhere), and deep concerns about sovereign debt and the appropriate role for central banks are back to the core of public policy discussions in economics and among the general public. This meeting intends to discuss Polanyi’s approach (through his book and companion film) in macroeconomic history and to discuss its potential contribution to contemporary public policy discussions. 

We envision this workshop as an exploratory session for an interdisciplinary group of scholars to pursue common threads of interpretation and to learn from each other’s disciplines. We strongly encourage participants to pre-circulate (by November 1st via the Polanyi Society website) a paper of no more than 20 pages in length. For those participants whose work is still truly exploratory, we request an extended abstract by the same date for the purpose of allowing all participants to have some advance knowledge of each other’s contributions. All presentations, regardless of the length of the pre-circulated material, should however limit their speaking time to no more than 15 minutes to allow for 10 minutes discussion with each presentation. The organizers are open to the possibility of organizing a collected publication agenda pursuant to the outcome of the workshop.

 Photos of the meeting: see here


9:00 Opening: Phil Mullins, president of Polanyi Society

9:05 - 10:20 Session #1

9:05 Struan Jacobs and Owwen Ormerod (Deakin University, Australia) (by video conference) 
Projects of social betterment: Michael Polanyi's economic film contrasted to Otto Neurath isotype system. 

9:30 Nilanjan Raghunath (SUTD Singapore University of Technology and Design) 
Reaching full employment in the digital economy – lessons learnt from Polanyi

9:55 Anne McCants (MIT) 
What a might a moral economics look like? Lessons from Adam Smith and Michael Polanyi

10:20 Coffee break

10:35 Walter Gulick (Montana State University)
Michael and Karl Polanyi: Politico-Economic Point, Counterpoint- is Rapprochement Possible?

10:55 Gabor Biro (Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary) (by video conference)
Projecting the Light of Democracy: Michael Polanyi's Efforts to Save Liberalism Via an Economics Film.

11:20 Coffee break

11:20 - 12:30 Session #2
Graduate Student Panel
  • Erik Stayton (MIT, History, Anthropology, and STS PhD program), Computing Spontaneous Order: Labor, Computation, and the Economy from the Great Divergence to Today
  • Jordan Howell (Harvard University, History of Science PhD program), The Republics of Science. Images of knowledge production from Smith to the present.
  • Jamie Wong (MIT, History, Anthropology, and STS PhD program), In dialogue with Polanyi on the "on demand" economy - a case with Uber drivers in Boston
  • J. Michael Wahlen (MIT Sloan School of Management, PhD program in Economic Sociology), Polanyi, Science and Salesmanship. Paper

12:30 Lunch (lunch bags available)

13:15 -14:30: Session #3

13:15 Marta Felis-Rota (Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain) 
Michael Polanyi's "Full Employment and Free Trade" in the context of the Second World War

13:40 Eduardo Beira (MIT Portugal Program and IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Public Policy, IST, Portugal) 
Michael Polanyi (1930’s and 40’s): a drift in personal career and inquiry, from experimentation to social studies and philosophy

14:05 Agnès Festré (University Nice Sophia Antipolis, France)
Michael Polanyi’s economics: A strange rapprochement between Hayek and Keynes.

14:30 - 15:00: Session #4
Final discussion

15:00 Conclusion

Full employment and Free Tradeby Michael Polanyi 
English edition (2nd ed., 1948) in Internet Archive (pdf)

Access to materials listed below is conditional. If you wish to have acce for non-commercial personal and/or academic purposes, you can access it by clicking on the link and initiating the request with the Google Drive message ("Request access"). Later you will receive e-mail with instructions about how to gain access. Corrections and comments are welcomed (
American edition (1948), pages i to xiii (pdf)

Unemployment and money. The principles involved. A diagrammatic sound film by Michael Polanyi (1940)
See the film 
and related materials, including subtitles in several languages, here

Images from Unemployment and money film by Michael Polanyi (1940)