The Invention of the “Economic”

by Caleb Roberts

In this way an “economic sphere” came into existence that was sharply delimited from other institutions in society.  Since no human aggregation can survive without a functioning productive apparatus, this had the effect of making the “rest” of society a mere appendage to that sphere.  This autonomous sphere, again, was regulated by a mechanism that controlled its functioning.  As a result, that controlling mechanism became determinative of the life of the whole body social.  No wonder that the emergent human aggregation was “economic” to the degree previously never even approximated.  “Economic motive” now reigned supreme in a world of their own, and the individual was made to act on them under penalty of extinction. (35)

Karl Polanyi | “Economics and the Freedom to Shape Our Social Destiny” in For A New West: Essays, 1919-1958.