Towards Social Accountability
Chapter 6: Contextualising the neo-liberal model: social embeddedness of economic relations
As the above quote indicates, the ST/EM corporate form seemed destined to become common around the world. By the mid-1990s neo-liberalism had effectively vanquished Marxist and collectivist ideas in the political arenas. Nevertheless intellectual interest grew in apparently successful business systems which did not conform to the ST/EM type. Explicitly or implicitly, the common attraction of these alternatives was their contrast to that model’s dislocation from civil society. Based more on sociology and social anthropology than Marxism, these assessments variously celebrated the virtues of continental Europe’s ‘Rhenish’ model of ‘coordinated capitalism’ (from countries bordering the river Rhine), the politically and culturally integrated corporate organisations in Japan, as well as the industrial districts of small firms in Italy and elsewhere. More recently the near-collapse of the financial system, in which the corporate system is enmeshed, has even stimulated an interest in the hybrid state-market structures which have continued to power Chinese growth while the West’s economies contract (Arrighi 2007, 2009). Analyses of these various alternative systems are not all based on the concept of social embeddedness. But, as originated by social anthropologist and historian Karl Polanyi, it is a useful tool for comparing the candidate systems and for judging their potential for re-balancing the economy-society relationship. During and after the Second World War, Polanyi synthesised economic anthropology and history into a critique of ‘formalistic’, neo-classical economics. His ideas have lately enjoyed a substantial revival amongst opponents of neo-liberal economics.
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