Human Accessories

But the more complicated industrial production became, the more numerous were the elements of industry the supply of which had to be safeguarded.  Three of these, of course, were of outstanding importance: labor, land, and money.  In a commercial society their supply could be organized in one way only: by being made available for purchase.  Hence, they would have to be organized for sale on the market — in other words, as commodities.  The extension of the market mechanism to the elements of industry — labor, land, and money — was the inevitable consequence of the introduction of the factory system in commercial society.  The elements of industry had to be on sale.

This was synonymous with the demand for a market system.  We know that profits are ensured under such a system only if self-regulation is safeguarded through interdependent competitive markets.  As the development of the factory system had been organized as part of a process of buying and selling, therefore labor, land, and money had to be transformed into commodities in order to keep production going.  They could, of course, not really be transformed into commodities, as actually they were not produced for sale on the market.  But the fiction of their being so produced became the organizing principle of society.  Of the three, one stands out: labor is the technical term used for human beings, insofar as they are not employers but employed; it follows that henceforth the organization of labor would change concurrently with the organization of the market system.  But as the organization of labor is only another word for the forms of life of the common people, this means that the development of the market system would be accompanied by a change in the organization of society itself.  All along the line, human society had become an accessory of the economic system. (78-79)

Karl Polanyi | The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time


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