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Challenges of the Great Transformation (I)


The Great Transformation consists of the transition from a market economy to a market society. Or, in other words, from a society with a market to a society consisting solely of the market. Markets have always existed in the history of humanity, but never has there existed a market society, that is, a society that makes the economy the sole axis structuring all social life, subordinating politics to it, and annulling ethics. Everything is for sale, even that which is sacred.

It is not about just any type of market. It is a market ruled by competition rather than by cooperation. What counts is the individual or corporative economic benefit, and not the common good of society as a whole. Benefits are generally achieved at the expense of the devastation of nature and the perverse fostering of social inequalities. In this sense, Thomas Piketty’s thesis in Capital in the XXI Century is irrefutable.

The market must be free, consequently it rejects controls and sees as its great obstacle the State, whose mission, we know, is to order society and the field of economics with laws and norms, and to coordinate the search for the common good. The Great Transformation postulates a minimalist State, practically limited to questions involving infrastructure, and the treasury, kept as low as possible, and to security. Everything else must be sought through the market, by paying for it.

The urge to turn everything into merchandise has penetrated all sectors of society: health, education and sports, the world of arts and entertainment, and even important religious sectors and the Churches. Religions and Churches adopt the logic of the market, the creation of an enormous mass of consumers of symbolic goods. These Churches are poor in spirit, but rich in the means of making money. It is not rare for a temple and a shopping mall to exist side by side in the same commercial complex. It always is about the same: obtaining income, either through material goods, or “spiritual” goods.

The Hungarian-North American economic historian, Karl Polanyi (1886-1964), studied this devastating process in detail. Polanyi coined the expression The Great Transformation, the title of one of his books, written in 1944, before the end of World War II. In its time the book did not garner much attention. Now, when his theses are ever more confirmed, the book has been converted into a must read for all those who want to understand what is happening in the field of economics, which resonates in all sectors of human activity, including religious activity. It is believed that Pope Francis has been inspired in Polanyi to criticize the present marketing of everything, even of human beings and their organs.

This way of organizing society around the economic interests of the market has divided humanity from top to bottom: an enormous gap has been created between the few rich and the many poor. A terrifying social injustice has been created, with multitudes of discarded human beings, deemed non-economic entities, burned oil, people who no longer interest the market because they produce very little and consume almost nothing.

Simultaneously, The Great Transformation of the market society has created a wicked ecological injustice. In their urge to accumulate, nature’s goods and resources have been exploited in an extremely predatory way, devastating whole eco-systems, contaminating the soil, water, air and food, with no ethical, social or sanitary considerations.

A project of this nature, of unlimited accumulation, cannot be supported by a limited, small, old and sick planet. And a systemic problem has arisen, one which economists who subscribe to this type of economics rarely consider: the physical-chemical-ecological limits of planet Earth have already been reached. This fact makes the system’s continued growth difficult, if not impossible, since it requires an Earth full of «resources» (goods and services or «generous gifts» in the language of the Indigenous people).

If we continue on this path, we could experience, as we are already experiencing, violent reactions from the Earth. As a self-regulating, living Entity, the Earth reacts to actions affecting her ability to maintain her equilibrium through extreme events; earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and a total lack of weather regulation.

That Transformation, by its own internal logic, is turning out to be biocide, ecocide and geocide. It is systematically destroying the bases that sustain life. Life is in danger, and whether from the existing armaments of mass destruction or from the ecological chaos, the human species could disappear from the face of the Earth. That could be the consequence of our irresponsibility and our total lack of caring for all that lives and exists.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

2 Comentários leave one →
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